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Baby

When my alarm blasted the following morning, I sat up suddenly in response. I reached over and switched it off, then threw back the covers and swung my legs around. Standing up, I ambled over to the chest of drawers, with my wedding clothes draped over them, as I’d selected the night before. I dressed myself into the aqua and white dress. After slipping my feet into matching ballet flats, I threaded dangly earrings into my lobes. I pulled my phone off the ear and retrieved my bag, slinging its handle over my shoulder.


See you soon


I sent off the text to Lizzie, then dropped my phone into my bag and stepped out of my bedroom, ambling down the hallway to the kitchen, where Mum and Dad stood, eating toast.


“I’m off,” I announced, strutting in and farewelling them each with a kiss to the cheek. “I'll be back sometime tomorrow."


“All good, Nina,” Dad permitted. “Have a good day.”


There was something stiff within his tone.


“You too, Dad,” I responded, ignoring that.


I left home, driving over to the Greenaway residence. All the way thoughts of the wedding ran through my mind – who would be there from the support group, whether I’d happen to know anyone else, and where I’d end up sitting at the reception. I parked out the front of Lizzie’s house. Even though it might have been thought rude, I reached for my phone. I sent Lizzie a text message, to let her know that I’d arrived. When she didn’t respond, I got out and approached the front door.


“Come in, Nina,” Aunty Melissa urged, wearing her dressing gown and slippers.


She opened the screen door, and I entered the house. Finally, we made our way out the door and back into the car. Lizzie sniffled, her attention on her phone as she frantically texted, while I kept my eyes on the road. As long as we arrived there safely, then everything would be fine. I was still glad we were doing this together. Once I’d been on the road for about an hour, I’d just passed the Campbelltown exit, but I already felt like I wanted to stop and stretch my legs. I wasn’t that familiar with long drives, in the driver’s seat, given that I couldn’t remember driving when we’d travelled to Goulburn or Canberra in the past. Glimpsing in the rear-vision mirror, I considered the cars behind me. I wondered where they were going. Were they going somewhere at all? Or were they coming home to somewhere, making a pilgrimage? I would be driving down to Canberra and then coming back the next morning, getting on with the rest of my life. For Lizzie, I didn’t know what the future would hold. While I burrowed the back of my hand into the headrest, I made sure that my eyes were on the road.


“Are you alright?” Lizzie asked.


“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” I assured. “I’d like to stop sooner rather than later, though.”


“Of course, that’s fine.”


Lizzie stretched.


“I could do with some chicken McNuggets, I assure you.”


With a laugh, I kept driving, my eyes peeled for the exit at the next service centre.


“Anyway.” I startled fiddling with the radio knobs. “Where am I dropping you off when we get to Canberra?”


“Actually,” Lizzie requested, “it’s better if we go straight to Bungendore, if that suits you.”


“Alright,” I agreed.


We approached Sutton Forest. I slowed down, turned left, then parked. Lizzie and I emerged, and I made sure that I locked the car behind us, being as conscientious as possible. We crossed the road. Lizzie wandered over to order, while I decided first to go to the toilet, clearing my bladder then emerging to wash my hands. I took a breath when I was standing in front of the sink at the McDonald’s at Sutton Forest. My tired reflection stared back at me. After I washed my hands, I walked out.


“Are you all good?” Lizzie checked.


“Yes, yes,” I assured, even though I could feel my heart racing. “You’ve got your food.”


Lizzie narrowed her gaze.


“Do you want something?”


“Yeah, of course,” I answered, then bought myself a large shake.


That would be enough to get me through. Hitting the road again, the traffic seemed to disperse a little, as cars in front of me one by one took their exits and went on to their destinations. I knew that I was heading for the centre of Canberra, and then I would go from there, hoping that I would be able to follow the signs if the GPS hidden from view failed me. My surroundings became increasingly familiar. Soon enough, the paddocks to my left opened, to the vast expanse of Lake George, with only small puddles of water amidst the grazing lambs. Wind turbines spun in the distance. For a moment, I listened out, and thought that I could hear them, but it was only the car rolling along the road. As if on cue, the song changed. Beaming, I cranked up the volume and allowed the tones of The Triffids to blast through the car. I felt at peace and I shouted the lyrics along, dependent on not checking the passenger seat, and realising that I was alone. Finally, the song concluded. I spun the dial once again, to the left. The next exit approached, for Bungendore Road. I checked the time. Debbie would have gone down to Canberra the day before, as she’d told me when she popped into the library to fetch her cardigan the morning previous, while I’d been at work. They would likely be congregating in the cottage that they’d hired, getting ready. I, however, would head straight for the mountain. I’d made good time coming down from Sydney, so it was still nine o’clock, with the wedding not until eleven. Therefore, I had the chance to take the scenic route around the outskirts, so I checked in my left-hand mirror and flicked on the blinker, taking the exit. Safely, I drove off the highway.


“Do you know the address?”


“He just said we could meet in Bungendore,” Lizzie mentioned. “I imagine that there’s a main street.”


“Sure.”


I hoped that I could just follow the signs. When the speed limit reduced, I gathered we were close. Upon arriving in Bungendore, I pulled over, looking across at Lizzie, who was once again on her phone.


“He said he’d be--.”


Lizzie glanced up, then smiled.


“Hello, you.”


A young man strode towards us, pale skin tinged with pink. My left hand constricted into a fist.


“You must be Lizzie’s cousin,” Tommy greeted me, pointing towards me with one finger while he wrapped his other arm around her.


“Yes, I am,” I confirmed, before they kissed each other on the lips.


“Thanks for dropping her off.”


“You’re welcome.”


I pressed my heel into the dust. My face felt flushed, as was Lizzie’s, albeit for completely different reasons. I noticed a vein protruding in Tommy’s neck. His chin jutted out for Lizzie to fit underneath. I finally released my fist.


“I’d better be off.”


“Good to meet you,” Tommy farewelled.


Lizzie waved me off. I left them to it, getting back into the car. Before hitting the road again, I checked my phone. I updated Mum and Dad to let them know that I’d safely dropped Lizzie off, omitting details about her romantic getaway. Lowering sunglasses onto my eyes, I needed to pick up some supplies for the wedding on the way. When I arrived at the factory outlet, I parked my car and stepped out. In Canberra, it was cooler than it had been the day before in Sydney, but there was still no unexpected chill. I closed the door again behind me, then fetched my handbag from the back seat. Dressed up for the wedding, I looked a little out of place to be going shopping. Nonetheless, I locked the car. I waltzed across the carpark. It was a large concrete paddock, the dark ground trying its best to glow underneath my feet. Heading inside, I knew that I needed to go to the toilet first, and freshen myself up. I breathed out, anxiety pulsing through my body, although it was starting to be replaced by excitement. In the toilets, I unzipped my purse and retrieved the tube of mascara which Mum had insisted the evening before that I take with me. I applied just a few dabs more to my eyelashes, then pulled off a paper towel from the dispenser, running it under the cool water. During the drive, my makeup had smudged a little. I laughed softly. This, perhaps, was always going to be a feeble exercise. Plenty more sweat and tears would go into this day before it was done, before I’d be able to tuck myself into a motel bed and fall asleep. I dropped my makeup back into my bag. Setting off from the toilets, I weaved between shoppers. I tracked down, eventually, what I needed. As long as I could get into Canberra, I would be the one who solved the bride’s shoe emergency, and helped her to live happily ever after all. After a few laps of the foreshore of the lake, I arrived at the wedding venue. I dropped off the tape and thread to Debbie outside, then noticed Clementine nearby. I greeted her with a grin as we approached each other and hugged briefly, then turned to admire the view.


“This would be a beautiful place to get married.”

Clementine closed her eyes briefly, and I wondered if she was thinking about Steve. I wasn’t sure whether or not to say anything.


“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you.”


I startled a little.


“Your mother works at Macquarie University Hospital, doesn’t she?”


“Yes,” I confirmed, surprised by my question.


“Oh, good, it’s a small world. I’d been in conversation with the hospital about being the artist for a new mural there. I haven’t heard anything back from them. Would you mind asking?”


Clementine’s brow furrowed. If I was pulling a face, I didn’t mean to be.


“Sorry, if that’s overstepping--.”


“No, it’s fine. I’ll talk to her.”


“Thank you.”


While it was on my mind, I texted Mum. The others began to arrive, as well as guests whom I didn’t recognise, other friends and family of Alana or Sam. Clementine and I found somewhere to sit with Timmy and Noel, who had left the girls in Sydney with Junia’s sister, Magdalene. Given the warmth, I hoped that the ceremony would promptly get underway. When the harp sounded, I rose to my feet along with the other wedding guests. Arm in arm with Debbie, Alana ambled around the corner, wearing a strapless white wedding gown. They both beamed, their faces glowing under the summer sun. Alana’s arms were toned. It was obvious that she played a lot of sport. Alana and Debbie reached the wedding celebrant, a woman with her curly hair cropped, a book opened in her hands. They embraced, mother kissing her daughter’s forehead, even though she was actually shorter by a couple of inches.


“I love you,” Debbie vowed.


Alana beamed.


“I love you too,” she testified.


They stood with their fingers still linked. I noticed that Debbie was wearing her diamond ring from long ago. Wedding days, indeed, were an occasion for reflection. They pivoted, to look down the aisle again. Sam was next, lace covering her shoulders. The skirt of her fit-and-flare gown seemed to dance in the gentle breeze. On her father’s arm, Sam reached Alana. They squeezed each other’s hands. Sam’s solitaire engagement ring caught the sun. She kissed her father on the cheek, and he shuffled back. The harpist finished playing. I wanted to applaud. The music was so soft and beautiful.


“Please be seated.”


We returned to the white chairs, decorated with tulle bows on the back.


“If anyone knows a reason why these two people cannot be joined in marriage, please speak now.”


An awkward silence followed.


“Good to get that one out of the way.”


To a smattering of laughter, the celebrant moved forward a large white candle and a lighter.


“We light this candle for loved ones lost, those who are not with us in person today, but are never far from our hearts.”


Alana and Debbie pressed the lighter. Clementine wiped a tear away from the corner of her eye. They lit the candle, although I wasn’t sure whether it would stay for the ceremony. As the two of them stepped back, I could see that Debbie was choking back tears. Alana rubbed circles into her mother’s back.


“It’s OK, we’re OK.”


Debbie pulled herself together. In every silence, I expected a dramatic entrance.


“With every guitar string scar on my hand, I take this magnetic force of a woman to be my lover, to be my wife,” Sam vowed.


Alana beamed.


“Sam, I vow to love you. In sickness and in heath, for richer and for poorer, my solemn vow and promise is that I will honour you as my wife, until death parts us.”


Alana turned to Debbie, who held the rings.


“Thanks, Mum.”


She handed them over to her daughter. Alana slid a glittering band onto her bride’s finger.


“With this ring, I wed you. Sam, with all that I am and all that I have, I vow to love and cherish you.”


“Alana, I accept this ring. May it be a constant reminder of these promises we have made today.”


They followed the same ceremony, with Sam accepting a ring from Alana.


“Our reading will come from the book of Ruth. It will be given by Brigitta Watt. Brigitta is a friend of the family.”


She rose to her feet.


“Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you,” Brigitta read.


Once the reading had concluded, she returned to her seat. I thought about Brigitta’s own wedding day, as a teenage, pregnant bride. The image I formed of her reminded me of Natalia, even though she was two years younger. Finally, the beaming brides were declared to be legally married. There was only one step left.


“You may now kiss the bride.”


As they locked lips, we rose to our feet. We cheered, then Sam and Alana parted. I wiped my eyes, feeble against my sobs. Clementine wrapped me into her arms and I finally pulled myself together. We’d both seen pain and joy, sometimes in the one moment. We turned to each other, not quite sure what to do with the ceremony over. I glanced up towards the roof of the building, noticing the slanted solar panels on one side, and decorative panelling on the other. One of the pieces seemed to have come detached a little, and lightly tapped as it blew in the wind.


“Right, it’s time for a drink, I think,” Clementine declared.


I felt a little queasy and knew that wouldn’t be settled by alcohol. As I brushed some of my hair back from my face, Timmy stood. Sam’s father ambled over.


“Thank you for having us here today.”


“Oh, you’re most welcome.”


Sam’s father spoke with a British accent, which surprised me.


“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got father of the bride duties to attend to.”


“See you later.”


Sam’s father scampered away. The Carillon stood before a blue sky. We moved inside to commence the reception. Waiters served canapes and drinks started flowing, making me grateful that I’d opted to stay the night. The first two glasses of champagne gave me more of a buzz than I intended, so I got stuck into the corn and haloumi fritters on offer, to compensate. I noticed Zipporah checking her watch.


“Is everything alright?” I asked her in a low voice.


“Yeah,” she confirmed with a small smile. “I’m just driving back to Sydney tonight. Natalia stayed, it would have been too much for her to travel at this stage of her pregnancy.”


“I don’t think that Sam and Alana would mind if you left.”


“Well, I might head off.”


We bid Zipporah farewell. We found our table, then the brides were introduced to the reception to much fanfare, sitting down at the head table. At my table, those from the support group were joined by some of Alana’s university friends. Naturally, we went around and introduced ourselves.


“I’m Nina, nice to meet you.”


Reflecting upon it, there was something sweet and easy-going, about just using my first name. The question would come, eventually, I knew. My fragility didn’t wear me down; it could be a strength, after all. I reached for my glass of wine and took a small, intoxicating sip of deep red. As I drank, I couldn’t recall how it had ended up on the table. I passed the glass away, just in case it hadn’t been intended for me. Bernadette stepped up, to act as Master of Ceremonies.


“Please welcome Mrs and Mrs McPherson-Parker!”


The brides shimmied their way into the room. Alana held the chair out so that Sam could sit down, then took her own place, next to her bride.


“Now, it’s time to eat.”


While the entrees were being delivered, I felt a little queasy. By pouring myself a glass of water and sculling it down, I was fine to tuck into a tomato stuffed with quinoa. It would come with the territory, that I knew few of the other guests already.


“So, Nina, what do you do?”


“I’m a uni student and I work part-time at the local library.”


“Yes, we’re friends with Debbie, Alana’s mother,” Clementine explained with confidence.


I nodded my head, carefully placing my knife and fork parallel on my empty plate.


“What are you studying?” the twentysomething, who’d introduced herself as Sarah, enquired.


“Teaching,” I answered, curling my fingers around a short glass of water which had gratefully replaced my wine. “Well, a double degree in arts and education.”


“That’s great.” Sarah swallowed. “Please excuse me, I just have to pop to the bathroom.”


I smiled politely. When she stood, I noticed her pregnant belly for the first time. I glanced around the room. There was a table near the front of the rest of Debbie’s family, none of whom I really knew. Their faces all bore a resemblance to one another. Waiters came around with the next dish, as Debbie’s father approached the microphone. We said grace, then tucked into our main course, two alternating vegetarian meals. I had a pasta dish with pumpkin, ricotta and baked cheese, just the perfect mix of creamy and crispy. Once I’d finished eating, I felt so full that I wasn’t sure I could eat again, even though I suspected cake and dessert would come.


“The newlyweds will now have their first dance.”


Alana took Sam’s hand, the two of them walking out onto the dancefloor. The band started to play while they placed their arms around each other’s waists. As Alana and Sam waltzed, I misted up, grateful for the relative dark to wipe the tears from my eyes. We applauded loudly, as the two women stood in an embrace.


“Could the mothers of the brides please join their daughter on the dancefloor?”


It seemed perfect for this occasion, not just with two brides, but considering Alana’s absence of a father. Debbie took her daughter’s hand, as she stood in her wedding gown. They walked out onto the dancefloor, along with Sam and her mother. Alana does look a lot like her mum. Behind my face filled with tears, but they didn’t spill. I merely wiped my eyes. After the mother-daughter dances, the rest of the families and bridal party joined them. Following another song, it was all of our turn. I rose to my aching feet, determined to have a good time, despite the length of the day. You had to wait until the brides left, before leaving a wedding, right? I wondered how Lizzie was getting on. Hopefully she’d be fine. We jumped and twirled, screaming ABBA at the top of our lungs like the night would never end. A wedding cake was wheeled out. Sam picked up a knife, decorated with a ribbon, which rested beside the three-tiered, iced cake. The new wives beamed at each other. They plunged the knife into the cake. Once photos had been taken, and icing smeared against made-up faces, it was whisked away again. The cake returned shortly after, sliced. There were more selections from the dessert buffet than I could have ever hoped to try. I placed a mini lemon tart onto my plate. Along with a piece of red velvet wedding cake, I walked back to our table. Sitting down, I slowly ate dessert. The tunes recommenced, You’re the One That I Want, from Grease. I knew every word from my time in the musical, and danced the night away. Even Lorelai was swirling around. I beamed at her smile, her outburst of joy. Being invited to this wedding was a blessing. Suddenly, bang, bang, bang broke through the music, near the end of the song. Hearts pounding, we rushed outside. We watched from the balcony, across Lake Burley Griffen, at fireworks bursting behind Parliament House. Amidst the distant bangs, I heard another, closer thud.


“That’d be the roof,” I remarked.


Once the fireworks were finished, we all headed back inside, time for the bouquet toss. I gathered, with the other single ladies. Alana tossed her bouquet over her shoulder. Crowded with the other bodies, I tried not to seem like a desperate girl. It’s not like I’m actually planning on getting married any time soon, considering that I’m only eighteen and – presumably – have the rest of my life ahead of me. After that, I stepped out. I really could have called it a night. It was almost midnight. I sent a text to Lizzie. While I figured that she would be spending the night in Bungendore, I did want to make sure that she was alright. As Clementine joined me, I explained to her the situation. She insisted that I was a good cousin.


“Do you reckon that she’s in love with him?” Clementine enquired.


“I don’t know, it’s been at least nine hours or so.”


Clementine laughed and slurped from her drink, finishing off the rest of the glass. When she held it out, I thought that she was going to go for another. Clementine didn’t, though. I didn’t ask her. The two of us returned inside, beckoned by Debbie, who handed each of us a sparkler. We held them out, for the brides to run through. My heart thumped, but I forced myself to smile, despite my fire-phobia. Thankfully, as Alana and Sam got into the car and drove away, the fires burned out. Retiring to my room, I texted Mum and Dad. The wedding had been beautiful, I assured them, but I did not mention Lizzie. Just as I placed my phone down, it tolled once more. My heart was beating faster as I reached.


Nina! I’m perfect! Don’t worry about me! Everything is great!


Lizzie accompanied her message with a selfie. She seemed to have found a man she could call ‘baby’ any day of the week. Maybe he would be invited to Christmas with her family. I felt more at ease with the news. I settled into bed, grateful I’d decided that I would stay the night.


 

The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She is studying 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 theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. A candidate for Honours at the University of Technology Sydney, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.




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