As the train pulled into Circular Quay station, the magnificent view of the harbour was revealed. Still it left me agasp with its immense beauty, even though it was unchanged. The train ground to a halt and the doors opened, prompting us to rise to our feet. We scurried off the train and onto the platform. After travelling down the escalator, I spotted the birthday girl, Hayley. I rushed towards her and embraced her tightly.
“Happy birthday!” I gushed, although my voice remained quiet.
“Thank you,” Hayley replied, “thank you, Nina.”
By the time we finally let each other go, Mum and Dad were standing by my sides. She handed over the present to me, which then I gave to Hayley.
“For you, my dear,” I told her.
“Awww, thank you very much,” Hayley replied.
She wrapped me up into another tight and warm embrace. Eventually, we parted, and I felt cold again.
“Come on,” Hayley urged. “Let’s walk around to the restaurant and I’ll open up this lovely present.”
As we started to amble, I slipped my hand into hers. Hayley didn’t even flinch, and even gave my hand a little squeeze. I smiled at her and she smiled back. Agewise, she was the cousin in between Mitchell and I, and they had always been particularly close, probably the most of all of the cousins. Hayley must have been taking Mitchell’s disappearance hard too. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to be there for her, because I needed to lean on Hayley. Perhaps we could lean on each other, and that would work just as well. Our group reached the restaurant, overlooking Circular Quay and the magnificent Sydney Harbour, which Mitchell loved so much.
Come here, he used to tell me, and look at this. Be a tourist in your own city. Have that awe.
“Booking for del Reyan?” Uncle Carlos questioned.
“How many?” the waitress queried, raising her defined eyebrows.
“Uh, ten,” Uncle Carlos answered.
It was our routine number. Yet, Mitchell had been replaced – only in person, of course – by Connor’s new girlfriend Loren, who was also Lexie’s cousin. She stood by his side with sunglasses on her head. The waitress nodded once and ticked our booking off the clipboard, fetching us menus and directing us over to the long table, where we would eat our lunch with a gorgeous view. Hayley and I sat next to each other. A year younger than Mitchell, they were always close. Both being girls, and now women, I felt an affinity with Hayley which seemed like it was growing, even though I couldn’t name it.
“Oh, I'll just mention, I’ve joined the uni musical.”
“My friend Dinah’s in that, she’s in the band playing the flute,” Hayley mentioned. “Do you remember her from Toukley?”
“Yeah, I do.”
Loren retrieved her phone.
“Should we take a selfie?”
We all smiled towards the camera while a picture was snapped to remember the occasion. I breathed out.
“The documentary’s on tonight,” I mentioned in a sober voice.
“We’ll be sure to watch it tonight,” Hayley promised.
I wanted to apologise for placing a downer on her birthday, but I knew that it wasn’t my fault – I hadn’t chosen the airdate, and I wasn’t culpable for Mitchell’s disappearance. Thankfully, the waitress returned. She took our drink orders, as well as scribbling down what we’d like for lunch. I joined in polite conversation with the family. We’d made such an effort to be there for Hayley, at my instigation. She would only turn twenty-two once, and she hadn’t been able to have much of a twenty-first the year before. Thankfully, our food arrived relatively quickly. Therefore, the conversation died down while we ate. Following the meal, Mum and Dad paid for me, which was kind of them. We chose to take the ferry home. On the way I checked my phone. Loren had posted the photo we’d taken at lunch to her Instagram story. Despite the fact that she was sitting opposite me, I found myself stalking her profile. All of a sudden, the soundtrack of a reel played. My heart felt like it skipped a beat. I flicked my phone onto silent, dropping it back into my bag, apologising instinctively. For the rest of the trip, I sat back and tried to breathe out. We finally returned to Parramatta. Heading up the wharf, I tapped off with my Opal card, then said goodbye to the others. Walking back to the car, parked near the station, Mum, Dad and I drove home in silence.
Had it been worth it to take the day off to celebrate Hayley’s birthday? Yes, of course it was, but in the meantime, I would sleep. When I woke up, I checked my watch. There wasn’t long until the show was going to start. I had just enough time to have a quick shower. Once I returned into my bedroom, dry and dressed, there were messages waiting on my phone. I turned on the television, listening to gentle rain outside. The support group chat was aflutter, discussing the impending episode. My heart thumped as the documentary started. I reached for my mostly full glass of wine which was resting on a coaster atop the side table of the lounge and slurped down a few mouthfuls. The opening titles were shown, with music behind them. Originally I considered the orchestra far too gentle, but increasingly it felt soothing, although maybe that was just the wine. The screen went black, the television quiet for less than a second. Even though Dad was watching it with me, I longed for my phone, so that I could be hooked in to the conversation in the group chat if it was taking place, given that I figured that others would be also tuned in. Mum just so happened to be sleeping through the whole thing.
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'.