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Numbers

During my shift, I noticed a car pulling up outside the library. Given that it was in the loading zone, I was tempted to head out. Yet, there wasn’t anyone to keep my place and I wasn’t really feeling that confrontational, after all. My cheeks went a little pink. I recognised the car as Aunty Melissa’s, prompting me to glance towards the clock behind me. Already it was after school time. Katie emerged from the car, arriving for her shift at the library. Once she approached the doors, Aunty Melissa drove away.


“Hello, hello,” I greeted, as the doors parted and Katie stepped inside.


“Hi, Nina,” she replied. “Would you like to hear some goss?”


“Alright,” I agreed, feeling a little giddy. “Sasha McGrath’s come back from Europe.”


I nodded. Sasha, the School Captain, had taken a gap year.


“The one-year school reunion’s this Saturday. You’ll be there, won’t you?”


“Yes, yeah, I will be,” I promised, even though I’d still been making up my mind about it.


“Well, I’d better leave you to it. Lizzie will be there on Saturday.”


I bid farewell to Aunty Melissa, then headed inside the library. While I wanted to say something about parking in the loading zone, one day hopefully I’ll be blessed with being old enough to think that traffic signs don’t apply to me. We worked for the afternoon without too much stress, then the library closed. Katie left for home. I had a little bit of quiet time to myself. The spring sunlight streamed in, then the automatic doors parted. Bandile strode through. Spring being in the air put a spring into my step instead, even though I needed to make sure that everything was organised for the evening’s gathering. Before I sat down, I ensured that each of the sixteen other glasses were filled, either with wine or orange juice. Then, I filled my own plastic glass with orange juice and placed down the bottles in the middle of the circle. Timmy held the news bear and cradled it closer to his chest, indicating that he was going to give his own news first.


“I’ve had a really good week,” he revealed. “I feel like I’m in a better place now.”


“That’s good.” I smiled at Timmy. “We’re all pleased by that.”


A few others swigged down wine, relaxing in their seats.


“And, um--,” Timmy began, then trailed off when he looked at me, hastily passing the news bear on to Brigitta to his left.


She smiled cheekily, then breathed out.


“I’m taking up modelling,” Brigitta divulged. “Well, returning to modelling.”


“You were a model?” Bandile enquired.


“Yeah, kind of, back in the day,” Brigitta confirmed. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”


“I’m not drinking alcohol tonight. I think that’s for the best.”


“I’m proud of you.”


“Thank you,” I responded to Brigitta. “I mean, I’m not going cold turkey. I’m still going to have a drink from time to time.”


Perhaps that wasn’t permissible as part of the Alcoholics Anonymous playbook. Alcoholics counted out the days they’d been sober, clinging to that number like it was something to worship. Of course it was an achievement, I wasn’t going to deny that. At the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to stop drinking altogether.


“Mitchell didn’t really drink. He didn’t drink at all really, I think.”


I couldn’t help but wonder what I didn’t know. Perhaps Mitchell drank more than I realised. My heartrate accelerated. My temptation would have been to just pass on the news bear, to not elaborate any further, but that would have been a cop-out.


“I remember when Mitchell turned eighteen. He didn’t have a big ‘first drink’ experience. We actually did a ceramics class for his birthday.”


There would be photos somewhere, of me at thirteen, hanging off my big brother. I welled up with tears. It didn’t feel like that many years ago, yet still an age had passed.


“Well, I’ve got a bit of news. My band is doing some gigs.” Bandile tapped at his phone. “I’ll send through the details to the group chat.”


“Thanks, that would be great.”


Hopefully I would have the opportunity to go. The news bear was passed onto Noel, who explained that he’d gone along to a support group for single fathers. I found myself sitting up straighter. Noel cast his gaze around the room like he was soaking all of us in. I made sure to listen closely to what he was about to say.


“It’s different, although sometimes other single dads are in the same place, having lost partners. A lot of them aren’t, though, and that can be really hard sometimes.”


Noel let out a hearty sigh, folding then unfolding his arms.


“There’s a fair bit of misogyny in single dads groups, especially after separation.”


He shook his head.


“I could only wish my daughters had their mother.”


Noel sat there for a moment, frozen. Finally, he passed on the news bear. Lorelai accepted it. Her body always seemed tense with grief. I couldn’t oppose that.


“I knew that before I married him that Marcus already had a daughter, that she’s a part of his life. When we had Lily, we wanted the girls to be close. Now--.”


Lorelai’s voice faded away. She handed over the news bear. Rod breathed out, tapping his fingertips together.


 

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'.


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