When I awoke, my mobile phone beside my bed was ringing. I reached over, grasping it and answering the call, from Aaron.
“Hello Aaron,” I greeted. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah.” His voice sounded dreamy. “Penelope and I got together, but we’re just a little bit tipsy now.”
I could hear giggling over the phone.
“We’re not entirely sure how to get home now,” Aaron admitted. “Would it be too much trouble to come and pick us up?”
“Ah, OK, alright.” I got out of bed. “Where are you right now?”
After a pause, my phone buzzed. I checked the message.
“I’ve just sent you our location.”
“Thanks. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
We ended the call. I scribbled a note for Mum and Dad, which I left in the kitchen, as well as texting them both. Last thing I wanted was for them to worry about my whereabouts. Getting into the car and pulling out of the driveway, the world felt stagnant, frozen in darkness. I wondered about the people in each house. How many were there? Were they sleeping, or awake? Once I approached the location, in Parramatta Park, which Aaron had indicated in his text message, I needed to find somewhere to park.
I’m here; I announced.
I felt my phone buzz, a text message coming through. Lowering it from my ear, I checked the location. Eyes on my phone, I got out of the car and followed the pin through the dark.
“Oh my goodness, you scared the daylights out of me.”
They giggled as I led them back. I drove Aaron and Penelope back to his place, struggling to get the directions out of him, as they were all over each other. Once they were safely inside the house, I drove home. With uni in the morning, I collapsed back into bed to finish my sleep. I dreamed about Mitchell, that he’d died, and I was at his funeral. By the time that I woke up again, I wandered out to the kitchen to find a note from Mum.
I’ve left for work, you needed the sleep in.
Once I arrived at university, I dropped in at the hospital to say hello to Mum again.
“Hello, Nina,” she greeted me, a little taken aback. “Did everything turn out alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine.”
After farewelling Mum, I crossed the university campus. I got to my class, finding a seat up the back as I slipped the strap of my bag from my shoulder and retrieved my laptop, placing that on the desk. It passed without incident, although I still missed sleep. In the evening, we went over to Uncle Julio and Aunty Caroline’s house, to celebrate her sister’s birthday. As soon as Dad knocked on the door, footsteps could be heard pattering over the floorboards. Their five-year-old daughter Chloe burst open the front door.
“Hello, Uncle Leo,” she greeted with a cheery smile. “How are you today? Thank you for coming.”
Chloe stepped aside to allow us to enter the refurbished cottage in Parramatta.
“Did you see those balloons on the letterbox?” she wanted to know.
“Yes, of course, Chloe,” I agreed with a smile.
It was genuinely true. I could already smell the sweet aromas of Uncle Julio’s cooking.
“They’re for Aunty Keturah because it’s her birthday and her favourite colour’s yellow, so we got yellow ones from the party shop,” Chloe explained. “Would you like something to drink? Daddy’s cooking the tea.”
Her enthusiasm was infectious.
“Thank you, Chloe,” I replied. “Orange juice would be lovely, but I can get it.”
I fetched myself a drink from the fridge, sipping at it slowly. Finally, Geoff arrived. I greeted him with a kiss. Being able to show affection to him so casually warmed my heart.
“You know, Brad dropped me off, so it would be great if I could get a lift back towards yours,” he requested. “Mum will be passing by from there, so she can take me home after that.”
“That would be fine.”
We sat down for dinner. I could feel that my heart was beating a little faster than I would have liked, but I found myself scratching the back of my neck. Just as I would have expected, the food was delicious. The meal was over before I knew it. While I felt relatively full, I knew that I still had a little bit more room. The birthday cake came out and we sang to express our love. Keturah blew out the candles, then Aunty Caroline divided up the cake. I tucked into my slice, as the conversation turned to Christmas plans.
“We’re not actually going to be in Australia for Christmas,” Aunty Caroline mentioned.
“Well, I always said that I wanted to take you to Paris,” Uncle Julio admitted. “I’d just hoped that it wouldn’t have taken quite so long.”
I couldn’t stop beaming for them. Finally, though, we needed to say our goodbyes and leave, the four of us stumbling back to the car. Returning home, I cleared away some dirty clothes before bed.
“Have you lost your mind?”
I mumbled under my breath, but Geoff was apologising already.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I mean, all I mean is that you’re tired, you should just go to bed, but you can do whatever you want.”
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'.