Sure enough, I awoke with a hangover. I paid lip service to cleaning up, then lounged around for a bit until Mum and Dad convinced me to drive up to Castle Hill with them for Christmas shopping. Besides, we needed to buy a present for Robert. Also, I needed to head in for an appointment to investigate my fainting spell. I dropped in at the medical centre, where, thankfully, there wasn’t much of a queue. There, I completed a blood and urine test without even flinching. It worried me a little bit that there might have been something wrong with me, but at least if there was, we would get to the bottom of it promptly. Departing the medical centre, I crossed the road. Cricket on the radio, Dad drove us home under bright blue skies. I couldn’t help but feel a little more optimistic. We occupied the afternoon at home. Before long, it was time to get ready and drive over for the birthday party. I watched the sky through the window all the way. We stepped out of the car outside Robert’s house. The street was crowding, so I was glad that we’d arrived on time and didn’t have to park too far away from the house.
“Hello, hello,” Uncle Stuart greeted.
Mum, Dad and I glanced over to notice him approaching, with Aunty Melissa, Janey, Lizzie and Katie.
“Hello,” Dad replied with a wave.
“We need to talk to you about Christmas,” Aunty Melissa stated. “Are you all coming over Christmas Eve, to our place? Nina can bring Geoff too, if she’d like.”
Mum froze, even though Dad ambled forward towards our relatives, who were approaching the house.
I too hung back, so that she wouldn’t look out of place.
“Of course, we’re coming,” I eventually answered, then charged forward down the driveway, with Mum’s hand in mine.
We didn’t have much choice. It was Christmas time, and we weren’t going to hide away, with Mitchell or without. Robert let us into the house.
I handed over Robert’s gift.
We moved through into the loungeroom. Geoff pushed his chest out a little as he removed his jacket and found somewhere to stash it. I tried to stand tall, noticing some of the faces. Callista spotted us, making a beeline towards us.
“Hi, Nina, how are you?”
“Good, thanks, yourself?”
I could feel my phone vibrating within my bag. During a lull in the conversation, I pulled it out and checked it, gasping at the messages.
“Natalia’s had the baby,” I mentioned. “Zipporah’s a grandmother.”
I slotted my phone back into my bag.
“She’s one of the women from the support group I’ve been going to.”
“And her daughter was the one who went into labour at your party.”
Callista took a sip of her drink.
“She seemed, um, really young.”
“Yeah, she’s only sixteen.”
I noticed a figure across the room. Bianca’s face was caked in thick makeup, and under the lights she glowed. When she stepped out of the heat and into the shadows, darkness in her face was evident. Bianca wore a long straight blonde wig, not unlike the hair which she’d had just before her diagnosis. She didn’t really, especially at a passing glance, look that different. I didn’t know what to say to her. Bianca almost could have been an angel. She wore a white dress with long lace sleeves. I approached her with a beaming grin.
“Nice to see you again, Nina,” she greeted me. “How are you today?”
“I’m good, thank you.”
It was the small talk of the traumatised, fighting to live in the moment with all that we had. Robert eventually got the attention of the room. With his arm around Bianca, finally there was silence. Robert always had the capacity to command a group of people. I knew that it was a big deal for her to be on her feet at this stage. My heart a little heavy, I breathed out.
“There’s something we need to tell you. Today, we’re getting married!”
Cheers rung out throughout the room. In record time, a birthday party was transformed into a wedding. Bianca’s father walked her down the makeshift aisle. I could feel my heart thumping, as photographs were snapped. The couple exchanged vows, straight from the heart.
“You make me think, you make me dream, you make me hope even on the bleakest days.”
I leaned into Geoff’s chest, grateful for his presence, wanting to cry.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Robert and Bianca sealed their marriage with a kiss, as the birthday party guests cheered. Finally, they parted, and she leaned into her new husband’s chest as he turned to the crowd.
“Alright, let’s get the party started.”
Whilst the bride and groom signed the paperwork, Waleed strummed away at his guitar. Photos were snapped and a cake – both birthday and wedding – materialised, having been baked by Aunty June. My eyes bulged – she must have known, and kept, the secret. To the side, I noticed Robert helping Bianca into a seat. She seemed like she was trying to catch her breath. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Bianca needed oxygen, as I knew that her body was failing her. Rather than thinning out to the edges of the room, we decided to have the party come to the bride, some of us even sitting on the floor so that we wouldn’t tower over her.
“Mrs Beauchamp,” Bianca mentioned with a smile. “It’s got a ring to it, doesn’t it?”
I grinned back, trying not to cry. Mrs Beauchamp saw right through me.
“This is such a beautiful night,” she promised me.
Music started to play, as we gathered around.
“This is Bianca’s favourite song,” Simon mentioned.
I smiled, hand clasped around my glass of champagne. While I thought I noticed Simon’s gaze trailing up my forearm, I couldn’t be sure. I finished off my glass and discarded on a nearby shelf, so we could dance the night away to the handpicked tunes. Wedding cake – vanilla sponge with white buttercream – was served. I stepped outside into the garden, slice on a serviette in hand. While I wouldn’t have admitted to it, I needed a bit of fresh air. Despite Robert and Bianca’s best efforts, I still felt like a heaviness hung over the wedding – we knew why we’d been gathered in such a swift fashion. Eventually, the music stopped. I leaned into Geoff’s arms and felt the warmth of his body. We bid farewell to Robert and Bianca. She was starting to tire. Even under heavy makeup, I noticed the dark circles underneath the beautiful bride’s eyes. We drove home and parked in the driveway, the other car already in the garage. Mum and Dad left for the house, and I lifted my head, while Geoff and I lingered, wanting some time to ourselves. My words were slurred a little as I flirted with him. Geoff played with my hair while we were sitting in the car.
“I’m so lucky,” I declared, and I believed it to be true.
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'.