I awoke in the middle of the night, seeing smoke all around me. My heart jolting, I blinked a couple of times and reached for my phone to call triple zero. I breathed in instinctively, surprised by the lack of a pungent aroma. Blinking a few times, my eyes adjusted. I caught my breath. Nothing threatened me other than the cold. I picked up my phone and opened my text message thread with Geoff, but rather than sending him a message, I closed it again. He wasn’t working the night shift, meaning that he would be have been sound asleep, all being well. Instead, on a whim I booked an appointment with the doctor, for when the morning formally dawned and I was supposed to be awake. I managed to sleep again, until it was time to get up, dressed and leave.
“I’m off to the doctor,” I told Mum.
“Oh.” Her expression faltered. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing in particular,” I answered, not exactly truthful – it was everything in particular.
The medical centre on a Sunday morning seemed like the perfect place to pick up an illness. I could have been doing anything else – working through the mountain of uni work, or even laundry – rather than staring at snotty children. In a past era, that had been Mitchell and I. Eventually I rose, in response to my name being called. With a fixed smile, I walked into the doctor’s room.
“Hello, Nina, how can I help you?”
I sat down.
“I’m just feeling really rundown.”
“What keeps you busy? Are you studying?”
“I’m in my second year at uni. It’s been alright, I feel like it’s been a little bit easier this year. Maybe I just don’t care as much.”
“I think it would be wise to complete a Mental Health Care Plan.”
Therefore, I answered her questions, rating my feelings. My responses were filed into the system, allowing for comparison between my visits, hopefully showing progress.
“When was your last menstrual period?”
“Ah, about three weeks ago. I’m due pretty soon.”
“And are you sexually active?”
The question seemed irrelevant to me.
I leaned forward a little, leaving a pause to indicate the two issues were not connected.
“You know that my brother went missing.”
“Yes, I do know that. Everybody knows about Mitchell del Reyan.”
Somehow this brought me a little piece of comfort.
“I’d like to take your heartrate, if that’s alright.”
The doctor applied a stethoscope to my back.
“Hm, it’s a little elevated.”
“I’m not OK, really, but I’m always not OK. Sometimes I can pretend. Probably most of the time, I pretend, so really, I suppose that I am OK.”
“No. I’ll be fine.”
A nagging part of me thought that I hadn’t achieved anything, although the doctor printed out my referral and prescription.
“No need to go to the desk. I’ll put this one on Medicare.”
“Oh, thank you.”
I stood, approaching the door, waving my hand over the sensor so that it would open. Removing myself from the surgery, I followed the doctor’s instructions. Finally, I departed into the cool autumn air. I drove home and set up camp at my desk. Studying would pass the time until Sofia’s bridal shower in the afternoon, although I still needed to write on the card. As I kept an eye on the time, I eventually abandoned my computer and headed down the back.
“How did you get on at the doctor this morning?”
“Yeah, fine,” I assured, writing on the card, then leaving for Sofia’s, the present with me.
Thankfully the drive went relatively smoothly, with few traffic interruptions, allowing me to arrive and park out the front. I fixed a smile onto my lips and opened the car door, emerging into the atmosphere. With the present in my arms, I made sure that the door was closed again, and the car locked behind me, before I approached the Trusloves’ family home. I curled one hand into a fist and knocked confidently on the door, grateful for the invitation. When the door opened, Sofia beamed and held up her arms. She wore a white dress, patterned with large magenta flowers. Another member of the family ending up opening the door, allowing Brigitta to walk through with a large gift. My cheeks were burning red. I pressed hair back from my face. Brigitta’s presence was a – not unwelcome – surprise. She provided Sofia with a gift. Brigitta pulled up a chair by the lounge.
“How have you been this week?”
We sat down.
“Yeah, good, busy with uni, though. It’s alright, I’ll get through it.”
“Have a champers and take your mind off it.”
Alexia pressed a glass into Sofia’s hands, then provided others for Brigitta and I.
She took the smallest of sips. I wondered if Sofia felt too queasy to drink too much. If she did, I could sort of relate. Somehow, I found my way through the whole glass of champagne. I felt the fizz all through my body, but thankfully it dissipated after a little while. The rain cleared, patches of blue sky poking out from amongst the clouds. We moved out the back, where I poured myself another drink. A marquee had been decorated with bunting, reading ‘Bride to be’ and adorned with hearts and pink and silver rings. I found somewhere to sit down, a little captivated by the drips of rain on the outside of the marquee’s fabric. Alexia slipped a headband into Sofia’s hair. The metalwork read ‘Bride’ in bejewelled letters. Carmel placed tall-stemmed flowers into the vase at the centre of the table. A chalkboard confirmed that twenty days remained until the wedding. It seemed to have crept up so quickly, even with Sofia and Ashton having a relatively short engagement.
“So, what time’s the stripper coming?”
“There better not be a stripper.”
“Oh, live a little, Sof.”
“There are children here, including you.”
I hadn’t heard Sofia speak so sharply before.
“And, likewise, you shouldn’t be drinking champagne, Alexia,” their mother tutted.
Carmel took the glass.
“Here, have another mini quiche.”
Alexia accepted one from the plate.
“Alright, alright, time for a game, do you reckon?”
Eleonore disappeared into the house for a short time. When she returned, we were divided up into groups, to play the toilet paper wedding dress game. I pulled out reams of toilet paper. If we were going to do this, then I figured that I may as well give it my all, and attempt to win the competition for our team – of myself, Brigitta, Eleonore and another friend of Sofia’s, Taylor. She spoke with a hint of a British accent. Taylor was designated as the person to be wrapped in toilet paper, an off-the shoulder number. We hoped the sophistication would get us over the line. One of Sofia’s family friends was breastfeeding her baby, so she was appointed judge. Her throne was one of the holding chairs, baby, left shoulder, and breast covered with a muslin wrap for modesty. When we won, I cheered loudly, but Alexia’s team cam in second place and also received a prize. She slotted a hat onto her head, to really get into the party atmosphere. She drew attention to herself while Sofia was slowly unwrapping her gifts, thanking each guest for their contribution. Alexia struck me as a person with main character energy, and the misfortune of being a middle child. I wasn’t sure where the pink, silver-rimmed cowboy hat had materialised from. Once the gifts were all exposed, I glimpsed my watch. I thought that it might have been nearly time to leave. Yet, instead, Carmel thanked us all for coming and encouraged us to stick around for speeches, whilst cupcakes, champagne and orange juice – for those under the age of eighteen – continued to flow.
“When Sofia was a little girl, she was always so responsible. She still is, we’ve seen that in planning this wedding.”
Eleonore beamed, and I was glad that she was giving this speech, rather than one of the others.
“Truth be told, she was practically a second mother to us,” Alexis interjected.
Laughter broke out amongst the group. I wiped the corner of my eye, thinking about Mitchell, and how I could have said the same about him. From that point on I felt like I couldn’t stay, but I didn’t know how to make tracks. I didn’t want to ruin the occasion. We made sure to snap some photos. After that, I knew that I could leave. Others were, as well.
“Thank you so much for having me.”
“Oh, it was our pleasure.” Carmel moved some wrapping paper out of the way. “I know it was through a dark time, but I’m glad Sofia’s gotten to know you. You’re a good friend.”
I left the bridal shower, scampering through the rain.
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'.