It was a sunny afternoon, when I was finished uni for the week. Given that it was getting closer to the end of the year, it was getting lighter and lighter at that time of the day. I headed towards the train station, to head home. It was Lizzie’s birthday, so we were going over for dinner at Aunty Melissa and Uncle Stewart’s place that night. As I approached, live music filtered in from the quadrangle, perhaps a celebration for the end of the week. When I turned the corner, my eyes bulged upon noticing Napthali on one knee, Dinah’s hands in his.
“Dinah Evangeline Faith de Bruyn, will you marry me?”
“Yes,” she vowed. “Of course, yes, yes, yes.”
The gathered crowd started to applaud. Napthali slid a diamond ring onto Dinah’s finger, a solitaire on a white gold band. They kissed passionately, then Hayley snapped a photo of the happy couple. After that, I didn’t really want to leave. I’d just witnessed a beautiful proposal. Nonetheless, I walked through the alleyway, taking a shortcut on the way to the shopping centre. My phone started ringing. I answered the call, from Mum.
“You’ll never guess what just happened.”
I didn’t leave much time to answer.
“Dinah, one of Hayley’s friends, just got engaged. Everyone saw it, Napthali, her fiancé, proposed at uni. It was so lovely.”
“That’s nice,” Mum responded. “Where are you at the moment?”
“I’ve just arrived at the train station.
Tapping my Opal card on the way through, I walked into the metro station and made my way through to the platform, casting my eyes towards the screens as Mum and I ended our call. Other students made their way around, eager to get home, while I concluded that I’d need to wait a bit. I sat down, with the bag on my lap. The lifts at the end of the platform shifted up and down. I should have gotten myself a coffee or a chai latte or something. Thankfully, I only had to wait for a few minutes, before a train arrived. I stood, the doors opening, other passengers alighting before I was able to step into the carriage and even get a seat, for the trip back. My journey home took just over half an hour. Mum’s car was parked out the front as I ambled back in the driveway. I called out my greeting as I walked into the house, but I could hear the shower, so I just slipped into my bedroom. She’d be getting ready to head over to Aunty Melissa and Uncle Stewart’s house, too. I changed out of my casual dress I’d worn to uni during the day. For Lizzie’s birthday celebration, I planned to wear a long pale pink dress. Thankfully, the nail polish on my toes hadn’t yet been chipped. I slipped my feet into heels, wanting to feel a little bit fancy. Your closest-in-age cousin only turns nineteen once, after all. I checked my appearance in the mirror. A smile came onto my lips. I walked out to the loungeroom, shoes clopping. With me I brought Lizzie’s present, so that I could put it into a recycled gift bag out of the cupboard. I flipped open the card, with ‘You’re a gem’ on the front cover, the last word bejewelled. I decided to write a message from all of us. Mum strode out wearing a hot pink dress.
“You look fantastic,” I praised.
She thanked me, then we stepped out of the house, a smattering of cloud cover through the pale blue sky. Along with Dad, who’d just returned home from work, the three of us moved down into the front yard, getting into the car. I kept the present with me in the back seat, while Mum drove. In the passenger seat, I could tell that Dad was struggling to unwind at the end of the week. I hoped that would change throughout the course of the night, celebrating his niece. Mum parked her car in Aunty Melissa and Uncle Stuart’s driveway in the evening, then we climbed out, holding Lizzie’s birthday present. Their black fluffy dog, Scout, ran to the screen door and barked at us loudly, as Mum locked the car and we ambled up the stairs towards the door.
“Hey there, baby, don’t scream at Nina,” Katie instructed the dog.
She opened the door and beckoned us inside.
“Hello, how are you?” Katie greeted, slinging an arm around my shoulders and pulling me into a brief embrace, pressing a kiss to my cheek.
“Well, thanks,” I answered. “How are you, Katie?”
“Good, good,” she replied. “I mean, I’ve been put to work today to get everything ready for this little birthday bash for Lizzie, but I’m sure that she’ll work just as hard for me next month, won’t you, Liz?”
Lizzie walked around the corner, wearing a short dress and sparkly shoes.
“Absolutely,” she assured. “Thank you so much for coming.”
Lizzie and Katie let us into the house, and we followed them through to be out the back, where the birthday bash would be held. I noticed balloons in large plastic bags.
“Oh, sorry, we need to get these out,” Janey noted, freeing them from the plastic.
Light-up cubes were set out across the grass.
“This looks nice,” I commented. “Very groovy.”
“Dad got a good deal for hiring them,” Janey mentioned.
We hugged briefly in greeting. Uncle Stewart emerged from the back door.
“Nina, thanks for coming.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
I finally handed over Lizzie’s birthday present. I noticed the slushie machine, Aunty Melissa proudly standing by it.
“We have slushies, we have pina coladas, whatever you would like,” she offered. “Thank you very much for coming.”
“Thanks for having us.”
“Would you like something to drink, Nina?” Uncle Stewart offered.
“Yeah, that would be lovely,” I accepted, and he poured me a pineapple juice.
“Oh, no, Nina would like a champagne, wouldn’t she?” Lizzie interjected.
I glanced between them, feeling like I had to choose my uncle or my cousin.
“Thanks Lizzie, I could do with a champagne.”
She poured me a glass. The first sip went straight to my head in an instant.
“And, we’ve got Midnights to listen to. Have you listened yet?”
I shook my head. Lizzie pressed play on the first track, called Lavender Haze. I drowned in the music, club beats even though we were standing in a suburban backyard. The vibe was so off what I would have been expecting. Lizzie adored it, so I didn’t admit that the overly produced pop would have to grow on me. The next track, Maroon, was more to my tastes.
“Who knew that Miss Swift went for Queensland?” Uncle Stewart quipped, offering a plate of cheese and spinach triangles.
An awkward silence followed, so I accepted some food.
“Oh my goodness, that’s so relatable.”
Anti-Hero got me good. I moved onto my second drink of the night, vodka cranberry with a toothpick through a marshmallow floating in it. As the sun was going down, we found somewhere to chill.
“Well, I absolutely don’t know what to make of that.”
Katie leaned back into the grass. While we listened to the music, Lizzie snapped photos on her Polaroid camera, while Scout the dog struck a pose. I bopped along to the rest of the song, and when it ended, I didn’t know if she’d be able to top it.
“He is the goodest boy,” Lizzie praised.
“I’m really keen for this one.”
There’s a reason my Instagram handle is @ninadelrey, after all, although it is mostly just a fun pun on my surname. The sound of the song was sort of mesmerising. It made me think of childhood, nostalgia a powerful emotion. I placed down my glass atop a light-up cube. It changed colour from red to orange to pink, capturing my attention.
“Are we ready for the next one?” Lizzie asked, but it moved on without me having to answer.
It would be the track five, which I was looking forward to. As soon as the song began, I found myself sucked in by the melody. I tried not to cry. I took my drink again, choosing to use the light-up cube for what was presumably its intended purpose, as a seat, affording me the opportunity to rest my feet. My eyes bulged at the beginning of Midnight Rain, at the sound of a deep voice which I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear on a Taylor Swift album.
“You go girl,” Katie affirmed.
“Surely that’s not her,” I insisted.
“I’m not sure, it might be one of those distorted effects,” Janey suggested.
I started to zone out a little bit, picking up my phone and flicking it onto silent. Perhaps I’d hoped for a message from Geoff.
“That was the lyric I’ve seen before.” Lizzie laughed, one hand clapping over her mouth. “I’ve seen that before.”
It had been on a billboard somewhere as part of the promo, then plastered all over TikTok.
“I’ve got to say, this is pretty relatable.”
Lizzie grabbed some snacks as the song ended. The next track commenced with lyrics, straight away, and they were mesmerising.
“This is just a completely different vibe. It’s kind of incredible.”
Lizzie gasped, grabbing Janey’s hand and slapping her on the arm.
“I love this,” she gushed. “This is completely superior.”
I stretched my neck, pressing my face into the long grass. Eventually I sat up, the scratchiness of the blades becoming more annoying than soothing. Janey, Lizzie and Katie stared, agape.
“I wonder who that’s about.”
Lizzie shook her head.
“I have no idea, but that’s my favourite.”
I walked inside the house, glancing up at the ceiling and trying to mind my own business, while I was heading in to go to the toilet. On the way back out, I crossed paths with Aunty Melissa, who was trying to ship-shape the kitchen. I thanked her for having us, then stepped back out to the party. The tunes were still playing. I sat down on the grass, knees bent to my chin. Lizzie started arranging the battery-operated candles around my bare feet on the grass. I giggled.
“I really liked that song.”
“It’s about everyone.”
“Too right, that,” I affirmed.
Aunty Melissa brought out a cheesecake. Mum and Dad emerged with her, a half-finished glass of wine in Mum’s hand. We stood around, the music turned down so that we could listen to speeches. Uncle Stewart spoke of his love for his middle daughter. As we applauded, he dabbed his eyes and gave Aunty Melissa a hug. After that, Lizzie cranked her phone back up. We were up to Labyrinth in the Midnights tracklist.
“Hey, did you check what the thing coming out three hours later was?” I enquired.
“No, oh my goodness.”
Lizzie started scrolling through social media.
“Oh my goodness, there’s seven more songs,” she gushed.
That answered my question, as the track ended.
“I really liked the vibe of that one.”
At the end of the night Uncle Stewart started to stack up the light-up cubes, switching them off. With that, Mum and Dad emerged from the house, which I considered to be my signal that we were going to head for home. I bid farewell to Lizzie, Janey and Katie. After wishing my cousin a happy birthday, I followed my parents. I waved over my shoulder, feeling giddy. Perhaps it was the time of night, coupled with the alcohol racing through my system. As we departed the house, I noticed the roses. Like the bejewelled birthday girl, there were so, so beautiful.
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'.