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Showtime

I was on my phone in bed at some ungodly hour, looking at prices for flights to Paris. There was no way that I was actually going to go, and I didn’t even know if I wanted to. We’ve been shells of ourselves since Mitchell’s disappearance. I hate it but I don’t know how to stop it. Somehow, I must have gone back to sleep, and then woken up again in the morning. I headed off to uni, with Mum in her car. The world seemed to be moving by at breakneck speed, even though she would have been keeping to the speed limit. I didn’t actually feel sick. Not that I took much in during class, I had my gear with me for Grease. At one stage, Dad sent me a photo of a bunch of flowers, which he promised me would be waiting at home, for opening night. After my tutorial, I left the classroom quickly. I needed to go and buy my lunch, from my favourite place on campus, even though it wasn’t exactly close by to the building in which I had my session of my class to prepare me for my next prac. Students were moving about, coming and going, the campus as busy as ever. As I entered a tunnel, I spotted Finn. I quickened my pace, so that I could walk alongside him, hoping that he was heading in the same direction as me.


“Hey, Finn,” I greeted, grinning, and while he looked a little startled at first, he smiled back.


“Hi, Nina,” he replied. “How are you?”


“I’m good, thanks,” I answered.


Finn narrowed his eyes in thought for a moment.


“You’re going on prac soon, aren’t you?” he checked.


“Yes, I am,” I confirmed, “once I get the musical out of the way.”


“Oh, yeah, you’re in Grease tonight, aren’t you?”


“Yeah.”


“I’m going to see that. I guess that I’ll see you there.”


“Yeah, see you there, maybe.”


Finn and I parted ways. I scurried over and bought my lunch, then chowed into the wrap as I walked through the campus. I arrived in the hall where the musical would premiere that night. The chairs were set up, props and costumes on the stage, along with actors flinging themselves around. They seemed to be getting through on coffee alone. I sat down in the corner and finished off my lunch, then found somewhere to stash my bag. It could do there for now, just off the stage. I glanced out over the empty chairs. Soon enough, they would be filled. For a split second, I pictured Mitchell sitting in the front row, fingertips together, looking straight at me, straight through me.


“Oh, hey, Nina.”


I spun around.


“Oh, sorry. Are you alright?” Callista asked me.


“Yeah.”


I wasn’t going to tell her. It seemed like the sort of thing not to admit to.


“I was just thinking about my brother,” I murmured.


Callista nodded her head with sympathy. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Dinah entering. I wondered over to speak with her – naturally – about the wedding.


“We have been thinking about it. Napthali’s family are in Victoria. We’ll probably have the wedding there.”


“Do you think that you would love to Victoria?”


“Quite possibly,” Dinah answered. “We haven’t quite decided yet.”


We took a brief break, sitting down for late lunch. Through the high windows of the hall, I thought that it was still sunny. It was a bit challenging to see the outside of the campus from that vantage point. I could faintly hear other students milling about. Taking a deep breath, I returned my attention to the group.


“There’s this thing going around on Instagram,” Callista explained, while holding her phone. “They tell you that it’s a support service for students, but it’s really a scam.”


“I also got sucked in by that, to be perfectly honest,” I admitted. “It can be so hard to tell these days, what’s real and what’s fake.”


I took a deep breath. Somehow the conversation drifted to our Enneagram numbers. I’d done the test when the support group was discussing it, so was able to announce myself as a Three.


“I’m a peacemaker, I’m a Nine,” Dinah mentioned, as she trimmed her fingernails.


“Yeah, that figures.”


“I feel like star signs are so twenty years ago, now it’s Myers-Briggs and Enneagram.”


“The thing with star signs is that they’re so arbitrary.”


I found myself nodding, unable to disagree.


“It’s more than just your birthday, though,” Tallulah reasoned.


“Alright.”


“Would you like me to show you?” she offered, showing an interest in the topic I hadn’t previously realised she had. “Birth charts are so fascinating.”


“OK,” I agreed.


“So, what time were you born?”


“Early in the morning. Like, early, early, like 3am or something.”


“Right.”


My answer didn’t seem quite satisfactory. Before my birth chart could be completed, Geoff called me.


“Mum and Dad and I are coming tonight. It’ll be good to see it. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch you after and say hello.”


“Yeah,” I confirmed. “Well, I’ll see you then, then.”


“Looking forward to it.”


We ended the call. I checked my notifications then flicked it onto silent. Picking up my bag, I stashed it with the others backstage, where it would be safe from interference and out of the way. The other cast members started to get into their places, for hair, makeup and costuming. My transformation into a company member would be rather simple. I covered up my blemishes with concealer, then dusted my cheeks with a little bit of blush. Outside, the sun began to go down. I snuck myself a moment fawning through the window, watching the pastels swirl. Before too long, it was showtime. The lights dimmed over the auditorium. I turned to Callista, looking her in the eye.


“Showtime,” she whispered, then we launched from our crouched position.


The music swelled, the band pumping out ‘Grease’ from their hidden position within the chair storage cupboard. I ran out onto the stage, in the chorus line. Immersed in the music, my body moved with power, symmetry and connection with the others, bathed in the bright and colour-changing lights beaming onto the stage. I wondered if that’s what it would feel like to fly. Grease was the word, and we’d only just begun proclaiming the gospel of blonde curls and leather jackets. During the number I thought that I spotted my family in the audience, along with Natalie, Greg and Geoff. At the conclusion of the song, we were replaced by the mature-age student cast as Miss Lynch. She gave a fantastic rendition of ‘Alma Mater’, belting out the song just as she’d done in the rehearsals. In time for the reprise, we crept onto the stage. I mostly kept to the back, in accordance with the choreography. While I would have loved to be the star of the show, it meant that I could copy from the people in front of me, whenever I forgot the moves. Electricity flooded through my limbs as I danced, flashing a mega-watt smile. We ran from the stage, the scene changing. The lights dimmed to allow the crew to assemble the next set, the lunchroom, and the school entrance where the main men were lounging around. It must have taken a lot of energy to look that casual on stage. They acted out the scene, leading into the next musical number. As the first bars played, I sensed the energy of the audience. I found myself grinning and mouthing the words, imprinted into my brain from pop culture and months of musical rehearsals. In the wings, I swayed from side to side with glee, then hopped back. I needed to make sure that I couldn’t have been seen by the audience. With a stool nearby, I sat. I thought about a video of Mitchell and Geoff from when they were little, singing this song. Quietly I laughed to myself, fiddling with my necklace. I wiped my eye, not wanting to smudge my makeup. ‘Summer Nights’ quickly segued into the following number, played on guitar. While Doody was a role I hadn’t heard of previously, Waleed shone with his skills. He finally left the stage, to a round of applause. Waleed passed the girls as they sauntered on. I beamed – they always play this scene so well. As just an unnamed chorus member, and not even officially a Pink Lady, I wasn’t part of it.


I anticipated ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’, although I knew from months of rehearsals that the tune would come later. Our version wasn’t the same as the film. Rather than Tallulah singing, Allegra, as Marty, gave a rendition of ‘Freddy, My Love’. Soft pink light shone from the ceiling. Some of the musical cast members I’d known before, or at the very least recognised them. I knew that Allegra attended my high school, and we shared a grin as she was replaced on the stage by the garage set. I mimed the actions to ‘Greased Lightning’, whilst the boys sung, getting sweaty amidst the humidity of attention. Finally, we reached the picnic scene. A knowing smile came onto my lips. Tallulah’s dulcet voice created an electric performance. I almost welled up with tears. In the audience I thought that I could hear a crackle of a baby’s cry. I took a breath to pull myself together. Louis was brilliant on the stage. Callista rocked the cheerleading uniform. I was pleased they hadn’t made it uncomfortably skimpy. It wouldn’t have suited the routine. The rush which I felt when I was performing, even if I was just part of the ensemble, would never leave me. I laughed as I raced off the stage with the rest of the company, as the curtain went down. The audience applauded. I’d not realised what a buzz performing in front of a crowd would be. It didn’t even make me want a drink, even though I suspected that there would be some sort of after-party following the show. Backstage was a hive of activity for a moment, then everything went quiet. It surprised me when Hudson came to mind. We were never particularly close. I felt guilty that I hadn’t gotten in touch with Maya lately. I’d not really known what to say, despite my own acute sense of loss. The lights dimmed in the auditorium, and I shuffled into place. It wasn’t long before the second half commenced. Callista was centrestage, underneath the spotlight for her showstopper number. I almost found myself holding my breath backstage, watching her from the wings. While her beautiful voice filtered through the auditorium, I concluded that I would never forget this show. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Callista had ever felt that sort of love. Our burgeoning friendship was yet to stretch into learning about such topics. I’ve always really liked this song. It has a cracking, catchy rhythm, and I found my body bopping to it without even realising. Callista moved from the stage with grace.


“You did so well,” I praised.


She beamed back. The costume team quickly fitted Callista with her wig. Louis applied more gel to his hair, slicking it back before replacing his leather jacket over his tight white T-shirt. Natalie, helping with the costumes, had aced bringing the iconic look together. Louis made quite the stud as Danny Zuko. He brushed past me as he approached the stage.


“You look fantastic,” I whispered.


“Thanks.”


As soon as he replied, he was gone. This would be a showpiece scene of the whole musical. I bopped along to the tune. Glancing at my watch, I knew that the musical was nearly over, but I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to soak in this feeling forever. Sure, it had been perhaps down to chance, but I was grateful. I was grateful I’d seen that flyer. The show came to a close and I watched the main cast bow to the applause from the audience, while in the wings. Us in the chorus were afforded our own, brief moment in the spotlight – literally. Once we’re retreated from the stage, the lights came up. I found myself nibbling on my thumbnail, while the other cast members embraced. Finally, Callista threw her arms around me.


“I’m so proud of you,” she assured me. “So, so proud of your performance.”


Someone must have ordered Uber Eats or something, because before too long, we’d kicked on for the afterparty, with plenty of food to go around.


“We’re thinking we’re going to do Rocky Horror next year.” Callista stuffed fries into her mouth. “Are you in, Nina?”


“Sounds great,” I replied, “but I think that I might have had enough musicality for one lifetime.”


I stifled a yawn.


“I’m going to go out and see my family, thank them for coming, and then I might head off home.”


I got up from the floor. The rest of the cast bid me farewell, as I waved and exited the room, ducking out into the auditorium. Sure enough, Mum, Dad, Natalie, Greg and Geoff were waiting there for me.


“You were fabulous, you were absolutely fabulous.”


Natalie wrapped her arms around me. As we pulled back, I glanced awkwardly towards Geoff.

“Thank you so much for coming,” I told him, and I meant it.


“You were fantastic, Mum’s right.”


I headed home with Mum and Dad. In the car on the way back, I nearly fell asleep, but somehow managed to remain conscious. I trudged inside, then collapsed into bed. For a moment the darkness felt overwhelming, but soon enough my exhaustion got the better of me.


 

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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