I tied my shoelace, then stood up and grabbed my hockey stick. Rose glanced over her shoulder. Once she noticed that I was following after her, she ambled out onto the field. We roughly moved into positions, not that we usually had regular positions. This contrasted against the other team, from Baulkham Hills. They stood forward on their toes. Hockey sticks at the ready, they rocked from side to side. When the referee blew the whistle, they ran. As soon as I started jogging, I breathed easier than I usually did, when I often got breathless. I wasn’t wearing my mouthguard, I must have forgotten to put it in. Truth be told I must preferred playing hockey without it, but I really didn’t want to lose any teeth. Holding my hockey stick horizontally, I scurried from the field.
“Sorry, sir, I forgot my mouthguard,” I apologised to the coach.
Mr Lane was standing by the side of the field, with his arms folded in front of his chest, wearing his trademark Akubra.
“All good, make it quick,” he permitted.
I rushed back, grabbed my mouthguard, then returned. Getting into position, the referee was able to blow the whistle and commence the match. I ran forward, for no reason in particular, just to demonstrate my eagerness. In the first play of the match, the ball was knocked up into the face of an opposing player, but his nose didn’t bleed. I figured this was meant to be a good sign, even though my chest filled up with anxiety like smoke, concerned that wasn’t the case. The player was helped off the field, although whispers floated around the midfield that the team’s coach was a professor of medicine. Therefore, he was in good hands. I glanced towards Geoff, trying to offer him a reassuring smile. It was a little challenging to do while wearing a mouthguard, but especially considering what had just occurred, I wasn’t going to take the risk of removing it. Therefore, I jogged along, mostly keeping away from the play. Eventually, Mr Lane subbed me off the field, allowing me to catch my breath. Standing on the sideline, my hand slipped into Geoff’s, a grim blossoming on my face. Neither of us said anything, just continuing to watch the hockey. I easily could have stayed out of the action for a little while. However, Mr Lane made the choice to return me to the field. Therefore, I jogged back out there. On the hockey field, my adrenaline could take over. At half-time, I cantered off the field. I allowed myself a drink of water. I pecked Geoff on the lips, my hand dropping from his, then slotted in my mouthguard. For this half, I would be stationed in the backs, which was just fine by me. As has been demonstrated earlier in the match, the Baulko team seemed to be much more aggressive than we’d anticipated they would be. Led by Finn, our forwards weren’t taking a backwards step, charging down the field with the ball and responding to every muttering the other team made. The players rushed towards each other. I noticed Geoff, on the sidelines, wincing.
“Hang on, hang on a minute, break it up.” Rose spoke in a calm voice as she pulled player from player.
The referee stepped in to start to intervene. My body felt shaky, the tempers flaring causing my heartrate to soar.
“Alright, does anyone need medical attention?”
One of the Baulko players somehow ended up with a bleeding nose, so he was sent off. I could have felt a little bit guilty about the second injury, especially with Geoff watching. Fortunately, we managed to get one over them on the scoreboard. Finishing the game one-nil, my time with Geoff on the sidelines was ultimately short-lived.
“Please, don’t leave.”
“I’ve got to go to work.”
Arriving for work at the library that afternoon, I scurried through the automatic doors. I ducked behind the counter and into the staffroom. Alone in the room, I changed out of my sweaty hockey gear. I stuffed the clothes into my bag, then rested my long hockey bag up against the locker. After dressing myself again into a long-sleeved blouse and long skirt, I fastened my name badge onto my chest. I stepped out of the staffroom.
“I’m right to take over now,” I told Spencer, leaning against the counter and thoughtfully reading one of the library’s books. “Thanks, Spencer.”
He glanced up with a smile.
“Thank you, Nina,” Spencer countered. “I’m off to play golf this afternoon.”
I smiled at him.
“That sounds fun,” I commented. “Do you usually play golf of a Wednesday?”
“From time to time,” he answered, leaving me to work for the rest of the afternoon.
Once the meeting got underway, I sat down next to Aaron, whom the news bear reached first.
“I’ve had a—” Aaron sighed. “A big week, I suppose you could say. Monday was a year since Joel disappeared. A whole year.”
He shook his head and I rested my hand on his knee to offer feeble comfort.
“Just over a year ago, I had no idea,” Aaron blubbered. “I should have held him and never let him go.”
I shifted my chair closer to his.
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'.