I slipped into the theatre for my Contemporary History lecture, finding a seat next to Lexie.
“How are you?” she greeted me, her voice almost blended in with the other noises in the space.
“Yeah, OK,” I answered, ignoring the tightness in my forehead. “How are you?”
Lexie mumbled an answer, before we turned our attention to the front.
“Alright, the 1990s.” My lecturer spoke with the familiarity of a misspent youth. “How many of you were even born then?”
A handful of the older students raised their hands. Mitchell would have scraped in.
“I want to show you something that was entertainment within the 1990s.”
Roberta pressed play, on a clip from YouTube of Australia’s Funniest Home Videos.
“That’s so cringe,” one of the students in the front row uttered.
I couldn’t help but agree. While I remember Funniest Home Videos, even as a baby adult I can see it’s entertainment of a different age. From television, to music – Roberta got out a CD player and pressed play. Lexie grinned, tapping her feet to the beat and singing her heart out. Finally this was a part of pop culture from the 1990s which we could get behind. I got swept up in the music, too, even though I wasn’t as familiar with the tune as she was. Cramps in my belly prevented me from fully getting into the mood. I doubted I was getting my period. It wasn’t long since the last one. Really, I just wanted to go home. Roberta’s words washed over me as she moved through the history of the 1990s. At least pop culture history was a fun start to the lesson, before moving onto politics.
“Do you know who this man is?”
Bill Clinton beamed at us from the screen. I nodded, and others did the same. Last thing I wanted to be was the student who didn’t know what they were talking about, and not recognising a former President of the United States.
“I’m going to play you a short clip.”
Roberta hunched over and clicked at the keypad of her laptop, starting the video. She took a sip of water from her drink bottle while we watched. Even though the speeches were from before I was born, I could almost quote them word for word. When encouraged to discuss, I ended up in a group with Lexie and John.
“It’s probably because he was a Democrat, but I can’t believe people didn’t see what a sleazebag Clinton was.”
“And a sexual harasser.”
“Yeah, but he still cheated on his wife.”
“And, yeah, that just makes it worse. It’s both. Something can be both sexual harassment or even sexual assault, and also infidelity.”
John nodded, but he rubbed his hands together like he didn’t fully agree. Lexie sat back and crossed her legs.
“Do you really think that what makes sex good or bad is whether the people are married?”
“Well, not good or bad.”
“Alright, sorry, I could rephrase the question.”
My cheeks glowed crimson. I wouldn’t have minded if the floor of the lecture theatre swallowed me whole.
“Alright, that’s it for this week.” The students were already starting to pack up and make their way out. “Thanks for coming. See you next time.”
John shoved books into his bag.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not debating sexual morality with you.”
“So, you’re answer’s yes?”
Body coursing with adrenaline, I found myself captivated by the conversation.
“Well, of course you can have good sex outside of marriage, but it’s just not moral.”
Lexie pulled a face. Finally, I was freed from my captivity. I could feel warm sun against my face, my smile bright and desperate. As my lips curved into a small smile, I startled just as quickly. I fetched my ringing phone from my bag and answered the call from Detective Scott, heart thumping as I steeled myself for whatever he would divulge.
“Nina, we’ve gotten in touch with the man in Austria. Poor bloke, we woke him up in the middle of the night. It’s not Mitchell, Nina, he is a man named George, he’s a nurse, he’s gone to Austria to spend time with his girlfriend.”
One hand rose to my mouth.
“So, you’re sure, it’s definitely not him.”
“I’m so sorry, Nina. It’s not.”
I stayed quiet for a moment.
“Well, thanks for telling me.”
We finally ended the call. I longed to flee from the university campus. Therefore, I did just that, disappearing from the hustle and bustle of the world into the relative tranquillity of the underground railway station at Macquarie University. A metro train arrived to whisk me away. I found myself in Castle Hill, walking down the hill to the police station. Letting myself in the front door, I could hear the thump in my chest, grateful that it was Geoff who greeted me behind the counter, rather than one of the other officers.
“Do you have a lunch break or something like that?”
“No, not really, but I do have a second.”
We moved into a side room, where I broke down. I leant against Geoff’s chest, pressing my forehead hard into his shoulders, while his arms clasped around my back. Finally, I took another of a breath so that I could lean into Geoff’s hands, slipping to the small of my back.
“Sorry, I hope I wasn’t hurting you.”
“It’s alright, you’re fine.”
We were so close, I could have kissed him.
“It was always a long shot, anyway.”
I hoped that Geoff’s dismissive tone was only bravado, trying to hide his disappointment. Taking a deep breath, I wished that we could have talked about it.
“I’m sorry, Nina, I’ve got to get back to work,” Geoff told me. “Call me when you get home.”
I retreated, leaving the police station. Once I got back home, I called Geoff, just like I’d promised.
“I’m glad to hear that you’re back home.”
He swallowed. I thought he was about to say something else, so I hesitated from myself speaking further.
“I’m so sorry, Nina, I’ve got to go. Some poor guy’s been stabbed and they’ve brought the perp into the station.”
“Yeah, of course, take care.”
As we ended the call, I gripped the case tighter. While Dad was making dinner, my phone sounded again. I wandered up to the kitchen bench where I left it after speaking with Geoff. Checking the message, my eyes welled with tears, with confusion at first before I realised the mistake which Clara had made.
So happy for you to have your brother coming back home! Hope you’re having plenty of lovely family time.
My hand started to shake. I dropped my phone, bouncing on the edge before landing on the back, thankfully sparing the screen. My chest felt like it was filling up, like there was no more room beyond my fear. The thumping of my heart rung through my ears, aching as I could sense blood rushing through them.
“What’s the matter, Nina?”
“I don’t think that Clara realises that it wasn’t actually Mitchell.”
As Mum shifted, her wedding ring caught the light. This attracted my attention, because she didn’t often wear it. I ate dinner, even though I wasn’t hungry. After helping Mum pack up the kitchen, I wandered off to my bedroom. I lay down, to finally drift off to sleep.
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'.