Clutching my red leather purse, I stepped into the pub, looking out for the balloons I’d been promised would be on the table. The windows on the opposite side were opened, allowing the cool breeze to filter in through. I spotted the balloons sprouting from the long tables in front of them. Quickening my pace, I moved over towards them. Mr McGrath, one of the geography teachers, waved at me, smiling a little. Across from him, I noticed his daughter Sasha, who had graduated in my year.
“Hello, Nina,” Mr McGrath greeted me in his measured tone. “I heard about your older brother. Mitchell is a wonderful young man; we’ve all been thinking of you.”
“Thank you.” I nodded, pressing my lips together. “It’s been rough.”
Mr McGrath rose to his feet, shaking my hand firmly, as he’d always requested at assembly.
“Well, we’re very glad that you could come,” he stated.
I grinned in agreement, my gaze flicking between Mr McGrath and Sasha as I withdrew my hand and sat down. Thoughts strolled through my mind, frantically searching for a topic of conversation. Sasha had gone backpacking in Europe on a gap year after she hadn’t gotten the mark she needed. I couldn’t exactly bring that up for friendly chatter while we waited for others to arrive.
“Your cousin, Dani,” I recalled.
Sasha nodded, reaching for the menu.
“I’ve met her,” I added.
I couldn’t really explain, because I knew Dani through uni.
“She’s really lovely.” I smiled.
“Yes,” Sasha agreed.
I kept my gaze high, searching for somebody else to arrive.
“Speaking of cousins,” I mentioned when I finally spotted Lizzie, approaching from the front of the pub.
She strutted over in her stilettos, wearing a figure-hugging black dress, her hair slicked back and her earrings dangly.
“Hey Lizzie,” I called out.
Sasha turned to look as well. We rose to our feet as Lizzie rushed over. She and Sasha embraced tightly, like they were best friends. I instinctively took a step back as Mr McGrath folded his arms in front of his chest.
“It’s so great to see you,” Lizzie gushed.
“You too,” Sasha replied with matching enthusiasm.
They slipped into their seats, prompting Mr McGrath and I to sit down as well. Sasha’s legs were fully turned towards Lizzie, her skirt tight over her thighs.
“How was Europe?” Lizzie wanted to know.
That should have been my first question, if I had wanted the conversation to flow. I should have just thought of Sasha and the exciting year that she’d had, even though it wasn’t what she had expected. My year also wasn’t what I had expected, but in the opposite way. It made me more tired and solemn, rather than the life of the one-year formal reunion party. I breathed out slowly, leaning back in the chair.
“Awesome, awesome,” Sasha answered. “I’ve been having such a good time.”
She glanced over her shoulder, then lowered her voice.
“The men of Europe are amazing,” Sasha insisted.
Lizzie pulled her lips into a circle, then smirked.
“I was planning to stay through next year, but now I’ve had some excellent news.”
“What?” Lizzie demanded, beaming.
“I’ve been accepted into law at Sydney Uni,” Sasha revealed.
“Oh, that’s excellent!” Lizzie hugged Sasha again.
Brushing against Lizzie’s bare shoulders, John squeezed into the seat beside her.
“Good evening, Ms Greenaway,” he greeted Lizzie, then glanced up at Sasha, “and Ms McGrath. You’ve seen the European sun.”
“I have indeed,” Sasha agreed.
“Well, it’s lovely to see you again, Sasha.”
John leaned across and pecked her on the cheek. Mr McGrath flexed his arms, like he had done whenever our geography classes talked too loudly and frequently, or somebody started trying to climb out the window.
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'.