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Swifties

“You need a change of scenery, my girl, to get your brain working,” Rose declared.


“Really?” I squeaked out.


“Yes, let’s go somewhere, let’s drive off somewhere and you can take your laptop and do your assignment there,” Rose suggested.


“Where would we go?” I asked.


Rose inverted her lips in thought.


“I don’t know, you can pick,” she allowed. “The Blue Mountains, maybe. My mother’s sister and her husband live up there. It’s beautiful there at this time of year.”


“Aren’t the Blue Mountains on fire right now?” I questioned, stealing a glimpse towards the window.


The morning sky outside was pale orange in colouration. The sun glowed white.


“Not all of it,” Rose insisted, “Aunty Linda and Uncle Jacques live in Leura and that’s not on fire. We could go up there in the main street and lie on the median strip and finish your assignment.”


Indeed, that’s what we did. I could smell the smoke when Rose and I emerged from her car. It made me feel queasy, but eventually my stomach settled. Rose locked the car behind us and we wandered down the main street. Just like we’d planned, we found a spot to sit. The nature strip in Leura bore the occasional person or group, lounging around in the sun despite the nearby disaster.


“I’ll get us some food,” Rose offered.


I nodded my head, getting set up with my books. The sunlight on the pages was a little eerie, tinged with bushfire smoke.


“Thank you.”


I watched Rose walk away. As she crossed the road, I returned my attention to my work, flipping over the pages of the textbook, a second-hand copy. Just as I started reading, my phone buzzed. Of course I would get distracted. No matter how far away I travelled, my phone tethered me to the real world.


How are you?; Geoff checked.


I’m studying in the Blue Mountains with Rose. I could come over later


Just see how you feel when you get back; Geoff replied.


Perhaps it was the smoke in the air which made me chest feel tight. Rose returned. She handed over to me a large brown paper bag, so I peeked inside.


“Ooh, lunch and dessert, thank you.”


“You’re welcome.”


“I mean it, I really appreciate this.”


“Oh, I think that I have all the oldest daughter traits. There’s little wonder I went into the line of work I have.”


Rose pressed some wispy pieces of blonde hair back from her face. I wondered if Mitchell felt the same way, like he’d been parentified.


“We could go and visit your family if you’d like, while we’re here.”


“No, it’s alright.”


“Are you sure?”


“Yeah,” Rose answered.


I nodded my head and we got back into the car. There, I ate and studied. I pondered what might take place in the year ahead, although the smell of smoke from the nearby bushfires reduced my appetite, even though Rose had purchased me a delicious lunch. We watched children playing nearby, although out of earshot.


“Oh, of course, I would love to have kids.” I laughed. “Just not right away, I don’t think that I could handle that.”


Mitchell’s disappearance impacted this, like all areas of my life. Anger bubbled up within me along with bile, so I swallowed hard to suppress it, but I couldn't keep the tears in.


“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get so emotional about this.”


“It’s fine, you’re allowed.”


Rose passed me a tissue while she kept her eyes on the road. I dabbed my eyes dry, then blew my nose.


“Sorry.”


“It’s alright, honestly.”


An empty paper bag from lunch provided a receptable for the dirty, scrunched-up tissue, although my hands felt a little dirty still. Once Rose had dropped me home, I dawdled into Mum and Dad’s bedroom. Lizzie was already sitting there with her legs crossed and a notebook resting in her lap.


“Finally, you’re back,” she sighed. “I came over to study with you and then your Mum told me that you’d gone up to the Blue Mountains with the counsellor.”


“Yes,” I confirmed. “Rose talked me into it.”


“We’ve ordered some dinner, I couldn’t have been bothered cooking,” Mum announced.


She looked at Lizzie, then back to me.


“You can go into Nina’s room and study.”


My cousin picked herself up off my parents’ bed. Lizzie followed me through into my bedroom. Really, I would have preferred to visit Geoff, if I was going to have company. Nonetheless, I sent him a text to explain, which I was grateful he accepted. The food arrived shortly after. I thought that I should have moved, but I really couldn’t be bothered. Mum placed plates of Thai takeaway down in front of both of us.


“Thank you, I love you.”


Mum departed the room.


“Alright, let’s not study,” Lizzie decided. “Let’s do something else, like, anything else.”


“Listen, when I got home this morning, I started, I genuinely did,” Lizzie reasoned. “Then, I had a nap for a bit, then I went on Instagram, then I came here and you weren’t even here. So, I left, and then I came back tonight.”


We decided to fill out a Taylor Swift song sorter quiz, to determine our favourites.


“Alright, Marjorie versus closure.”


“Definitely Marjorie,” I decided, then moved on. “Seven versus invisible string. That’s a little tricky.”


I ended up clicking seven, for a reason I didn’t speak of. Our next battle was the last great American dynasty, up against betty.


“I don’t listen to betty that much because of the swears.”


Therefore, I picked the last great American dynasty, which was up against cowboy like me.


“To be perfectly honest, I don’t vibe with cowboy like me.”


“Is that because of the swears?”


“No, I don’t think so. There are plenty of songs with swears which I do like.”


When she pressed me, though, I couldn’t immediately think of one. Therefore, we both continued with the quiz. I kept selecting Marjorie over and over again, which Lizzie pointed out to me, but I wasn’t sure what to say.


“I don’t want to make you feel bad.”


“Don’t worry, you haven’t.” I sighed. “Yes, of course, the song makes me think of Mitchell, although it’s a different situation, obviously.”


Lizzie breathed out.


“Of course I can’t forget him.”


My cousin gripped my hand.


“We won’t forget Mitchell,” I promise.


I found myself welling with tears.


So that I wouldn’t cry, I finished my dinner. That should have been enough to fill me up, but I still felt like a drink, or dessert.


“Look, I really hope that things will work out. I don’t know what’s happened, but I really hope that Mitchell will come back.”


“Me too.”


I returned to the Taylor Swift song quiz.


“Do you think that you’d want to move out?”


“Not at the moment, it’s too expensive.”


“I don’t even think I know Untouchable.”


Lizzie started humming a melody. It didn’t necessarily help.


“I still think Today was a Fairytale,” she confirmed.


That was the song we both selected.


“You know, Untouchable is a cover.”


“I didn’t know that.”


Generally, I would have Googled the original song, but instead I looked it up on Spotify, listening to a bit of it before returning to the quiz.


“I would definitely pick Mr Perfectly Fine.”


When I tapped that option, so did Lizzie.


“The Story of Us or Style,” I read from my phone. “They’re both pretty alright songs.”


“Definitely Style for me,” Lizzie responded.


“Yeah, nah, I’m going to pick The Story of Us. I love Speak Now, I remember Mitchell listening to it.”


Lizzie gave a nod. I needed to be able to talk about my brother without the mood immediately turning sombre.


“What was his favourite song?”


“Look, I honestly don’t know.”


I breathed out. Even though it seemed like a little thing, I would have been overjoyed to be able to ask him. I started fiddling with my hair.


“I’m a little bit confused.”


“Alright, Style or Dress?”


From time to time, it was nice to outsource the decision-making.


“Oh, that’s tricky,” Lizzie said, fanning her face with her hand. “I love both Style and Dress.”


She stared at her phone for what seemed like a long time, then picked Dress. I chose Style, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. This placed the two songs which we had rejected, on our respective phones, matching in every other way, up against Treacherous.


“Oh this is a difficult one. I think I might choose Treacherous, but I’m not sure.”


I showed Lizzie my battle, even though it gave away my previous decision.


“Yeah, no, I would agree with you that Treacherous is a superior song.”


“You know, I honestly can’t decide. I think I might just hit No Opinion.”


“It stuffs up the stats if you do that.”


Despite Lizzie chastising me, I did just that.


“I mean, I get what you mean. You don’t have to like every song.”


“I feel like that style of music isn’t quite my favourite.”


“Yeah, I can see what you mean,” Lizzie agreed. “I’d probably put these songs about even, I’m tempted to say that I like both.”


“Cardigan is a great song,” I said, “but also, exile is exile. I feel like it’s kind of iconic. I’m going to go with exile.”


Once I clicked the square, it gave me the choice between cardigan and Out of the Woods. I thought about asking Lizzie again about moving out, but I didn’t want to pry. It was easy to say that my cousin and I were so different, but I knew the truth was more complicated than that.


“Oh, definitely The Other Side of the Door over Paper Rings,” she declared.


I was a little surprised, because Lizzie usually preferred the pop bangers to the country hits.


“It is a pretty good song.”


“Would you girls like some ice cream?” Mum asked, popping her head in the door.


Both Lizzie and I looked up, sprung not studying.


“That would be lovely, thank you,” I accepted.


Before Mum returned, I pulled across a book. At least I could look like I was studying, even though I felt a little bit dishonest. Lizzie must have noticed a concerned expression on my face.


“What’s the matter?”


“What about All Too Well, ten-minute version, or Come Back, Be Here?” I proposed.


“Definitely the ten-minute version of All Too Well.”


I picked Come Back, Be Here. The song might not have been the most superior, but it reminded me of how I felt about my brother. I didn’t tell Lizzie, because I figured that my decision was an unpopular choice.


“I love The Best Day, it’s such a beautiful song.”


As I thought of Mitchell, I misted up a little bit.


“Are you alright, Nina?”


“Yeah.”


I clicked The Best Day, eager to get on with this. That gave me a choice between I Think He Knows and Starlight. Starlight’s a cute little song.


“You’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Red, haven’t you?”


“Yeah.”


Some choices were easier than others. Whenever either of us came up with a difficult clash, we just had to share out loud.


“Alright, I’ve got I Almost Do versus The Last Time?”


“Right.”


“I really like I Almost Do, but it’s such a sad song.” In thought, I sighed. “Would I choose it over The Last Time?”


I didn’t, all ends up. This brought up the next battle, between The Last Time and Sad Beautiful Tragic. I picked the second one, which battled Begin Again against this is me trying.


“I would pick Begin Again just because I think that it’s a nice sounding song,” I mused.


“And you love Red.”


“I do, it’s a really good album. I’d probably say, in general, it’s my favourite album.”


Lizzie nodded.


“What’s yours?”


She titled her head to the side, humming in thought. I clicked Begin Again, while Lizzie pondered.


“Red is pretty good,” she agreed, “especially the vault tracks, but I probably would have said 1989 or reputation, or maybe even Lover? I don’t know; I guess that the quiz might tell us in the end.”


“What songs have you got at the moment?” I asked, leaning over to check the screen of Lizzie’s phone.


“Better Man and Daylight,” she answered.


“I do like Better Man, it’s a good song.”


“Do you reckon you’d pick it over Daylight?”


“I really don’t know.”


Generally, I liked the happy songs over the more mournful tunes. They made me reflect upon what I’d lost, even if I couldn’t relate.


“What about Bad Blood?”


“I’m not sure if I love the message.”


“Oh, yeah, that’s totally fair,” I agreed. “I mean, especially when you think about how they made up again, you know, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. They’re friends again now.”


“Yeah, I don’t love Bad Blood.”


Therefore, I picked You All Over Me. The new song to pop up was right where you left me, one of the bonus tracks from evermore. I did think for a moment, but it was the latter which won out. Leaning over, I peered at Lizzie’s phone. Her battle was State of Grace up against Treacherous.


“I really like both of these songs.”


“Yeah, so do I.” Lizzie tilted her head to the side for a moment, pondering which song she was going to choose. “I think I would just pick Treacherous.”


We both tapped on the box at the same time. For a few minutes Lizzie and I made our own choices without communicating. It was sort of addictive, like a poker machine. Not that I’d ever played on poker machines before, but I could guess what they were like from the media coverage. I knew that they were bad news. Another pair of songs popped up – Sad Beautiful Tragic and The Last Time.


“Yeah, neither of these are songs that I really listen to, but they’re both good songs.”


Lizzie started to play it on Spotify. My response surprised me. The mournfulness of Sad Beautiful Tragic found me drawing towards the tune. Before I could change my mind, I clicked the box. Christmas Tree Farm popped up, a song which I’d heard once or twice before. I decided to add it to my playlist of Christmas songs. It was a Spotify list which had been shared with Mitchell. I hadn’t accessed his account since his disappearance, although it was probably worthwhile to cancel his premium subscription. I hated doing things like that. Generally if a song from Speak Now or Red popped up, I would select that. I had plenty of nostalgia associated with those albums, even though I was only a kid when they were released.


“How are you going with that Lofty Sparks thing?” Lizzie wanted to know. “You’re still in it, right?”


“Ah, yes,” I confirmed. “The next competition’s coming up. I’m going to give a similar speech to the last one, I’m pretty sure.”


“That’s good. You were always good at public speaking, although sometimes I think we just did it so that our mums would be impressed with us.”


“Do you remember the one we went to at that school under the flight path?”


“Aw, yeah, I remember that.” Lizzie smiled with nostalgia. “We went for McDonald’s afterwards.”


Yeah, that had been the highlight. I tried to pull myself back into the memory and comb it for details I might have missed the first time. A couple of messages popped up from Geoff. He was kind enough that I could have ignored him, but the very fact of his gentleness made me feel more comfortable responding. With Geoff I felt a safety I wasn’t sure that I deserved, before chastising myself for relying so much on a man. It would have been better to complete the task with a playlist crooning in the background.


“Sparks Fly is a good song,” Lizzie mentioned. “It’s such a sexy song, too, it’s quite a sexy song for that point in her career.”


I let out something of a laugh. It seemed to be all my cousin could think about at times, but I didn’t point this out, just in case she took offence.


“It’s something that I want to do. I’m definitely going to have sex before I get married.”


I knew that we weren’t talking about Taylor Swift songs anymore.


“It’s like, some people will die before they have sex. I don’t want to be like that. We don’t know how much time we have left.”


I understood this acutely. Of course, I didn’t want to discuss my brother’s potential sex life, not even with my cousin.


“It’s not something I’ve thought about much,” I expressed vaguely.


Finally, Lizzie tapped the screen of her phone, which had faded to black.


“Anyway, let’s get back to this.”


The song sorter had saved our progress, thankfully.


“Oh, Better than Revenge, that’s going straight to the bottom,” Lizzie declared.


“No, I like it. I know that it’s unhinged and misogynistic, but I like it,” I justified.


“I wouldn’t have expected that.”


My lips curving into a smile, I let out a soft laugh.


“I try to be a woman of mystery, Lizzie Greenaway.”


Despite my bravado, it was Lizzie who I often felt could be hiding something. I didn’t vocalise this, in case it was my own paranoia. How could I doubt someone who otherwise seemed so open?


“There are just some things I need to talk about.”


I breathed out, while Lizzie sighed.


“What do you think you’d want to name your kids if you had them?”


She breathed out, rolling her lips in thought.


“Well, Lizzie is short for Elizabeth. All three of us have that where our name is a shortened version of our actual name. Well, except for Janey, because Janey is technically longer than Jane.”


I laughed. I’d deliberately changed the subject. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have deep conversations with Lizzie, but rather that I didn’t know how to hold my own within them. Before long, she managed to bring the discussion back. Lizzie confided that she had been spending time on dating apps, but that her first dinner out with a guy had been a disaster.


“I’m really glad you’re here. I don’t think I would be able to talk about this with anyone else.”


“It’s alright.”


I wanted to promise her that her secrets were safe with me. Yet, I didn’t know if I could make that assurance.


“Can we listen to some songs?”


It didn’t want to get frustrated.


“Look, I honestly don’t know.”


I laughed.


“You don’t know if we can listen to music?”


“Yeah, of course we can.”


I got out my phone and showed Lizzie the app.


“You’ve got a Spotify subscription, yeah? It’s not just Mitchell’s account?”


“Yeah, Mitchell has the paid version and I’m pretty sure that he’s been paying for my account too.”


He’d do that for me regularly. It wasn’t something that I really wanted to talk about. A part of me was embarrassed that my older brother shouldered my expenses, even though I had a job of my own. Lizzie yawned.


“We probably should get this finished sooner rather than later.”


“Do you want to have a quick listen?”


I was just about to start playing the song. Lizzie let out a huff.


“Yeah, I don’t think this was the finest moment. I mean, I knew that I had to do it.”


“Honestly, it’s alright. You’ll learn.”


I sounded a little bit like someone’s annoying aunty. I sighed.


“How was your day today?”


“Yeah, it was good, it was good,” I confirmed. “The smoke wasn’t that great, but really, we weren’t close enough to the fires for it to be dangerous.”


“Well, that’s good.”


The next battle popped up – Sad Beautiful Tragic versus The Last Time. I drew my eyebrows together quizzically.


“I didn’t see that coming. Genuinely, I thought we’d already had these songs.”


I made my selection again.


“My goodness, I feel like a drink,” Lizzie expressed.


She fiddled with the ring she wore on her left hand – with a small pink tone, representing her birthstone for October.


“Alright, what about this,” Lizzie proposed, “All Too Well or Forever Winter?”


I took a deep breath.


“No, these are both fantastic songs.”


“Oh, specifically I mean the ten-minute version of All Too Well.”


“The darling of the re-recordings.”


“So far.”


“It did seem like the most convoluted way of achieving that,” I admitted, “but it’s absolutely been for the best.”


“I feel like it’s a bit of a glow-up, but I don’t know.”


Lizzie propped herself onto her elbow.


“What do you think the new album’s going to be like?”


“Look, honestly, no idea,” I admitted. “There seems to be a bit of a 1970s theme to the photos on the back of the album.”


“Are you getting pretty close to the end?”


“Yeah, I think so.”


Lizzie flipped over onto her stomach. She lightly ran one of her hands through her hair. I thought that it felt a little hot in my bedroom, but I didn’t say anything.


“Alright, I need your help with this one. Wonderland or exile?”


“Oh, I would say Wonderland,” I responded. “What about you?”


“Yeah, me too.”


We both selected the song from 1989. Lizzie put down her phone.


“Alright, tell me about you and Geoff.”


“It’s pretty dreamy,” I admitted with a grin, “for the most part.”


“What do you mean?” Lizzie questioned with a furrowed brow.


“Sometimes I’m worried that I’m going to make a mistake and stuff everything up.”


“Well, he is your first boyfriend. It doesn’t mean that he needs to be your last.”


We continued clicking away, choosing one song or the other. Lizzie’s words stayed with me, but I didn’t say anything to challenge her.


“I’m all done.”


“Wow.”


“Are you done?”


“Yeah,” Lizze agreed, as I dared to scroll down.


“Haha, yeah, my top ten are all Red songs.”


“What’s your number one?”


Lizzie peered over my shoulder so that she could see my phone.


“Holy Ground,” I answered, “and then my second song is Come Back, Be Here.”


“You only said that because of Mitchell, didn’t you?”


Lizzie spoke in a sombre tone.


“Yeah,” I conceded. “I guess that I did.”


The melody played over and over again in my mind.


“That was really fun.”


“Yeah, it was.”


We finally fell asleep, just like when we were little girls.


 

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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