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The ceiling swam above me. Exhaustion pulsated through my veins. The television played softly with the sombre tune of the morning news. I rolled onto my side, my eyes instinctively falling shut for a moment. After taking a deep breath, I willed myself to sneak a peek at the alarm clock on the shelf by the bed. The numbers 7:36 blared back at me in illuminated blood-coloured numerals. I needed to get up, but I could not bring myself to drag my body out of bed just yet. More sleep was desperately craved. I listened to footsteps, as Mum approached down the hallway.

“Nina,” she spoke up.

“Yes,” I grumbled my response.

“I’ve brought you in some cheese toasties and some orange juice for breakfast if you would like it,” Mum offered.

“Thank you,” I replied, accepting the juice and taking a small sip.

Mum left for work and I finished my breakfast. I’d promised to meet up with Lizzie and her friends to celebrate Christabel’s birthday with teppanyaki in the city, so I was determined to honour that commitment, even though I didn’t really feel up to any part of doing that. We met up at the bus stop, to travel into town.

“Happy birthday, Christabel,” I greeted her, handing over her gift.

“Thank you, Nina, this is so kind of you,” she replied as she accepted it.

The bus approached. I reached out to flag it. The bus pulled into the kerb. I felt a heaviness within my body, from the weight of keeping a secret. Still, it wasn’t the time to tell them, to even tell Lizzie, that Geoff and I had broken up, that the police were no longer pursuing Mitchell’s case. We boarded the bus, thanking the driver as we tapped our Opal cards, then found somewhere to sit down up the back. Lizzie seemed fixated on her phone, her brow furrowed.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, Scout’s been escaping. We’ve got to have someone at home all the time, but it’s not my turn today, so it’s not my responsibility. Really, we just need to fix the fence.”

Lizzie snapped a selfie, then slipped her phone into her clutch. I could feel my pulse racing.

“How has uni been for you?”

“It feels easier than last semester,” I said, albeit in a questioning tone.

A firetruck passed the bus with sirens and lights blaring. I stared at it, allowing the conversation to move on without me. The conversation moved on to Caitlin’s latest flame, a man I’d never seen or heard about before.

“You’re too good for him,” Lizzie insisted, “but anyway, it’s not my decision, Caitlin, it’s not my problem.”

She sighed, a little insolent. With Caitlin not taking the advice, the girls started discussing their star-signs.

“I’m a Sagittarius,” I supplied, after taking a moment to remember. “That’s a fire sign, isn’t it?”

Lizzie nodded her head.

“Sounds like I could burst into flames at any moment,” I quipped.

In the city, we got off the bus, tapping off with our Opal cards and thanking the driver. Caitlin knew the way to the teppanyaki restaurant, so we followed her lead, everyone full of laughter, except for me.

“We’ll have to all go out on Friday night,” Lizzie decided.

I presumed that I was invited, even though it wasn’t explicitly posed towards me. I’d be able to brush off Friday night dinner; in fact, I wanted to. Arriving at the restaurant, a waitress showed us towards the table where we’d sit, with a teppanyaki hot plate in the centre. I slumped back against the wall, grateful that we were sitting in a booth. That was the only thing that I was grateful for, to be perfectly honest. I barely even anticipated the teppanyaki lunch which we were about to eat. Given that I was so brutally exhausted, it was unlikely that I would be able to catch any food, anyway. Lizzie returned to the table, carrying a large drink for each of us. She laughed as she placed one down in front of me and I could barely manage a smile. Lizzie took a sip from the alcoholic concoction she’d selected for herself.

“Oh my goodness,” she gushed. “That’s better than sex.”

“Have you had sex before, Lizzie?”

“Hello, ladies,” the chef greeted, saved by the bell. “Let’s have a good time. Alright! How do you rate your catching skills?”

He seemed far too cheery for me, but I was at least capable of playing the game for a little while. Eggs were cooked on the barbecue.

“Are you uni students?” the chef asked.

We answered in the affirmative.

“My name is Kenzo, I would love to learn your names.”

“I’m Christabel.”

“And it’s her birthday.”

Kenzo beamed.

“Happy birthday.”

“Thank you,” she replied with a smile.

The rest of us introduced ourselves, then Kenzo asked if any of us spoke Japanese. I confirmed I spoke a little. Kenzo cooked fish on the barbecue, tossing the parts to us to catch in our bowls, with each slice of his blade. I chewed my food, biting the inside of my lip, but not outwardly wincing at the pain. Whilst not drinking alcohol so that I would be able to drive later in the day again if needed, I washed it down with water. We came to the end of the meal, thanked the chef, then split the bill between us. The group of us wandered out into Darling Harbour.

“Oh, God, I needed this,” I gushed.

“Are you alright, Nina?” Lizzie asked.

I cocked one eyebrow, breaking my vow to bottle my issues up.

“Geoff and I broke up.”

“Oh, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry.”

The suggestion was made to head into Harbourside Shopping Centre to buy Christabel a new outfit, her and Caitlin charging off in front of us, with their minds made up. I squinted, the sun brighter than ever before.

“Look, maybe, we won’t do this,” Lizzie suggested. “Nina and I might need to get back.”

“It’s fine,” I assured. “We’ve got time.”

I was determined to put on a brave face, considering that the price of being accepted by Christabel and Lizzie, which I was willing to pay. Following them into the shopping centre, I felt queasy. It wouldn’t have been lunch. That was quite delicious, but the events of the previous day continued to be smeared across my mind like excrement. I trailed after the other girls while they shopped. They still lived happy lives. Was that possible for me, too, or would my heart remain forever broken? When I finally returned home, Geoff was waiting out the front, cap in hand. I sighed audibly, craving to push past him, but at the same time, wanting to hear what he had to say.

“Your mum said you’d been out today.”

“Yeah, I went to teppanyaki with Lizzie and the girls from uni.”

A cold gust of wind picked up.

“Look, what do you want to talk about?”

“I wanted to talk about us, what you said last night.”

“You stabbed me in the heart.”

“I’m sorry you’re so upset.”

“I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Please, don’t be like this.”

“Be like what?” I snapped.

I finally looked Geoff in the eye.

“Mitchell is my brother, he’s your best friend.”

Chest tightening, I could feel the tears starting to spill from my eyes.

“I thought that I was going to marry you one day,” I admitted, shaking my head.

While I cried, Geoff lingered. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet like he didn’t know whether or not to come closer, how I’d react.

“It’s fine, Mum and Dad are here,” I assured him. “You can leave, you can leave if you want to.”

Geoff breathed in sharply through his nose.

“I’m sorry, Nina. I don’t know what else to say.”


Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.

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