At the sight of the oak trees, I knew that I was on the right street. It had been a while since we’d visited the Lavers, Belinda being Natalie’s cousin, the daughter of Nanna Dawn’s younger sister. It had been Doc Joan, as she was known, who’d treated Grandmary during her pregnancy. That was how she’d met Nanna Dawn, and then Mum and Natalie had grown up together. Just before the house, I looked over my shoulder. I waited for a cyclist to pass as I flicked on my blinker, then pulled in. Parking outside, I emerged from the car, retrieving the cardboard boxes which Dad had offered from the back seat. I locked the car and headed across the front yard, daisies growing in the gardens. The screen door opened.
Jessa stepped out onto the front porch. She was always older and more beautiful than me. Neither fact I held against her.
“Come in, sit down.”
We walked down the hallway into the kitchen, then Jessa looked over her shoulder.
“We’ve got time to stop for a cuppa before we go, don’t we?”
“Yes, yes, you’re running this show,” Belinda reminded. “Oh, how are you, Nina?”
“Good, thanks,” I answered by default.
Belinda flicked the kettle on. She didn’t seem like she’d aged a day since we’d last seen the Lavers.
“Mum said that you’re at uni now, now you’ve finished school,” Jessa mentioned.
“Yeah, I’m studying arts and education at Macquarie Uni. It’s been pretty good so far.”
The kettle boiled. Belinda prepared tea and handed the mugs around.
A tall, dark and handsome man entered through the back door. Jessa slotted her arms around his waist.
“This is Jamal,” she introduced lovingly. “My beloved.”
Jessa’s eyes never left his face. She kissed Jamal’s shirt, where his pecs were underneath, then finally let him go. I heard a knock at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Belinda offered.
“So, what keeps you busy, Jamal?” I asked, using my go-to small talk question.
“Well, I work at a hospital.”
“Oh, lovely,” I replied. “So does my Mum. My brother, Mitchell, he’s a nurse--.”
I noticed something shift in Jamal’s expression. Belinda walked through with a brunette woman her age, and two teenage girls who bore a family resemblance.
“We’re just having a cup of tea.”
The woman nodded. Belinda glanced back to me.
“You remember Aggie and Lucia, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” I confirmed, even though they’d grown a bit since I’d last seen them. “It’s good to see you again.”
Smiling politely, I felt a bit of an ache in my brow, like a sinus headache. So much for it taking more muscles to frown than to smile.
“It’s not every day your niece moves house,” Hilda, their mother, mentioned. “Of course we’re happy to help.”
She offered a grin. I found myself studying Hilda’s face, every last laugh line. She would have been slightly younger than my mother. I knew what had happened to Hilda’s husband, Aggie and Lucia’s father, Eric’s brother, Michael Laver. Vaguely I remembered his death taking place. I wondered whether the girls would have had any memories of their father. Most probably, they did not. Belinda prepared cups of tea for the new arrivals as well, allowing us to sit around the table. There were always enough chairs in the Laver house.
“Thank you, this is lovely.”
Hilda, Aggie and Lucia sipped their tea. After about ten minutes of chatter, they finished their drinks.
“We probably should start to make tracks.”
We walked through into Jessa’s room – well, what used to be Jessa’s room. I paused, leaning against the doorframe. Eric passed a box into my hands.
The cardboard hadn’t been labelled. Peering through the crack, I noticed some books, recognising the titles from our much younger days. I walked out onto the front porch. Boxes in hand, I couldn’t see where my feet were landing before me. At the bottom of the stairs, I stumbled a little. Thankfully, I didn’t fall, and continued on my way. I fetched my keys from my pocket, unlocking the car and slotting the box of books onto the back seat. Being a P-plater, I can’t use the navigation on my phone speaking to me. Therefore, I checked out the way to Jessa and Jamal’s new place and stashed my phone, breathing out to calm myself down. Hopefully I’d be able to find my way there. Finally, I fastened my seatbelt and set off. The rush of the drive calmed me back down. A police car drove in the other direction, lights and sirens. I followed it with my eyes, needing to stop a little quickly at the next set of traffic lights to compensate. Usually, it would have just been an anomaly. As I waited, I strummed my thumb against the steering wheel. Another police car followed, cutting through the intersection in front of me, so I craned my neck. Whatever was going on, hopefully wouldn’t concern me. I said a quick prayer as I continued on my way. When I pulled up outside the townhouses, I took a breath. I could see Jessa and Jamal making their way up the stairs. At least I was in the right place. I emerged from the car with my haul in my hands. I carried in a babushka of bags which Jessa, ever the shopaholic, had collected over the years.
“Yeah, just bring everything through here.”
I nodded, then walked through and dumped the load in my hands. It appeared they would sort through later. Inside, Belinda was boiling the kettle again. Along with the teabags, that must have been one of the first appliances to move in. Jamal rubbed circles into the small of Jessa’s back.
“You’ll make plenty of memories here. It’s a beautiful place.”
When my phone rang, I excused myself so I could take the call.
“Hi, Geoff, how are you?”
“Yeah, I’m good,” he confirmed. “Your Mum and Dad are over at my great-grandparents’ place. I’m not sure if you’ve got other stuff to do, but if you want to come over, that’s where they are.”
“Yeah, alright, I’m just helping Jessa Laver move this morning.”
“Oh, of course, that’s good of you. I’d forgotten that she was moving so soon.”
“It’s a lovely place.”
“I’m sure that it would be.”
Inevitably, Geoff would get to visit sometime, with the rest of his family. Once we ended the call, I returned to the others.
“I’d better make tracks,” I spoke up, hands in the pockets of my jacket.
“Thanks so much, Nina.” Jessa squeezed me tight. “It means a lot that you’d help us out with moving.
Heading out to the car, I leaned back against the headrest. My fingers curled tightly around the steering wheel, in perfect position at ten and two. After a hazy moment, I snapped out. After we’d been helping Jessa move, I drove back to Northmead. I pulled into the driveway of Geoff’s great-grandparents’ house, nestled amongst the gumtrees. As I emerged from the car, I listened to faint chatter. Laughter filtered out of the home, beckoning me. I climbed the front steps, where Geoff greeted me at the door. He greeted me with a beautiful smile, his kindness making me realise I felt more fragile than I realised. The prospect of studying didn’t seem attractive.
“Would you like to have a rest?” Geoff offered. “There’s the spare room, you can have a lie-down.”
“Thank you,” I accepted.
I walked through like a zombie. Eyes already half-closed, I dropped onto the bed. Geoff followed me into the room.
“I just want to sleep, I think.”
When Geoff was sitting on the end of the bed, it wouldn’t have taken much for me to lean forward and kiss him. I doubted it was what he wanted, though, so I squeezed his hand and offered a smile.
“Thank you for being here.” My voice sounded hoarse. “I really appreciate it.”
Geoff nodded his head with sympathy. He left the room, giving me time to sleep. I didn’t need any more encouragement. Once I woke up again, I felt a little groggy, but after a moment, was able to get up. I felt a little bit of pain as I walked through the house and fetched a bottle of water, relatively unfamiliar, even though I’d visited on plenty of occasions. I stepped out into the backyard, where Dad was carefully tending to the vegetable garden. Padding down the stairs, I ambled over to him. Dad glanced up, allowing me to hand him a chilled water bottle.
“Thanks, Nina,” he responded.
Dad sculled down half of the water.
“Thank you for doing this,” I told him.
“It’s alright,” Dad permitted. “It’s good to help out. Poor old Percy can’t do it at the moment.”
“If you need any help, just let me know,” I offered.
It was a shallow offer, to be fair, because it required Dad to be proactive and ask, but I didn’t know enough about gardening to be able to figure it out for myself.
“No, it’s alright for now, Greg and Natalie will be here soon,” Dad mentioned.
He set down the bottle, then I walked away. There was something uneven now, without Mitchell. Thankfully, Greg and Natalie turned up. I let them into the house and walked them through, into the kitchen where we could see out into the back garden through the window. We allowed the early winter sun to warm our faces, chatting rather than working.
“You were a big help this morning, I’ve heard, with Jessa moving.”
“Well, it was nice to see them again.”
“I appreciate it. Greg and I weren’t able to help, and Jessa’s my first cousin once removed.”
“So does that make her Geoff’s second cousin?”
“Yeah, that’s right, I’m pretty sure.”
Mum and Dad decided that we would be leaving. Whilst I wanted to stay, I knew that I had uni work to do, even though I lacked much energy or motivation. I bid farewell to Geoff and his family, then we drove away. When I arrived home, I sent a message to Jessa via Facebook Messenger.
Hoping everything’s going well at your new place!
As Jessa was online, she seemed to read my message almost immediately, the three dots popping up shortly after.
We’ve started unpacking the boxes
Jessa sent me a photo of their loungeroom, which was starting to fill up with a little bit of furniture. Zooming in, I identified a framed family photograph, including the Lavers with Doc Joan and Uncle Patrick, Jessa and Travis’ grandparents. I love-reacted to the image, then checked some other messages. I clicked on the link to the Google Form, which Timmy had sent through in our group chat for the support group. The questions loaded, allowing me to fill them out and provide answers about myself, which could be used for trivia. Some of them burned, like naming myself as the youngest child in the family. I figured that most of the support group would know what I studied, anyway. Perhaps some of them were not really listening, but I didn’t want to entertain that idea. Rolling onto my back, I said a prayer.
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'.