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Toukley

Dad pulled up at the university, where we’d agreed to meet to get on the bus north to Toukley. Raindrops trailed down the windscreen of the car.


“Don’t get out just yet, I’ll get the umbrella so that your bag doesn’t get wet,” Dad advised.


As I nodded, he opened the driver’s door and quickly slipped out. In the rear vision mirror, I watched Dad scurry around the back of the car. He retrieved the umbrella and opened it up to shield him. Dad took a step to the side and opened my door, prompting me to step out onto the kerb. The umbrella covered us both while I shut the door behind me. Together, we reached back over to the boot, which Dad opened to retrieve my suitcase and sleeping bag. I carelessly threw it over my shoulder. Giving Dad a farewell kiss on the cheek, I climbed the bus with the others.


“Let’s not be too rowdy, alright. We don’t want the neighbours to complain.”


Regardless of what the neighbours thought, we were out of there. The bus took off, rain teeming through the windscreen. We drove through the Northconnex tunnel, then up the M1 to Toukley, where we disembarked at the campsite. The cabins would be our home for the next couple of days. We left our luggage in the foyer areas, out of the rain. Considering that we’d get wet regardless, we decided to check out the opportunities for canoeing. I brought a rain jacket with me, even though I knew it was futile. Our group trekked along the path, with jungle on either side. Finally, we reached the clearing, the lake. I found myself standing beside John.


“You’re studying teaching, aren’t you, Nina?”


“Yeah. I’m in my second year of my degree now.” I shook my head. “It’s gone so fast.”


“Uni for me has gone very, very slowly.”


John skimmed pebbles over the surface of the lake. Others pulled the canoes across. Lizzie slung her arm around John’s shoulders, a startle ripping across his face. We pushed the canoes into the shallows.


“I suppose we’ll have to get our hands dirty.”


“Do you reckon that we’d be able to get all the way to the other side?”


“Oh, I don’t think so,” I answered, although John looked up for the challenge.


We paddled out. I breathed out slowly, trying to soak in whatever serenity I could muster from the occasion. A part of me went to reach for my phone, which I hadn’t brought out onto the water with me. It would have been lovely to snap a picture.


“Oh dear,” Lizzie shrieked. “I’ve lost my necklace.”


John dove into the water. For a moment, everyone was laughing, and then we fell silent, except for the gentle pitter-patter of rain against the lake. Just as we started to panic, John emerged from the surface, coughing up water like he was about to expel a lung.


“Are you alright?” Lizzie checked. “You gave me a heart attack.”


John made his way back into his canoe, handing back over the necklace.


“Maybe that’s enough heroics for one day.”


He brushed his leg, noticing how the water had mixed with blood, around the site of a newly-formed gash.


“It’s fine, it’ll stop bleeding.”


My heart beat faster, feeling like I couldn’t say anything. We returned through the jungle, which buzzed with late summer insects. I was keen to relax, which we did over a simple barbecue lunch which Napthali prepared, under the awning. Following lunch, we indulged in a lazy afternoon. I could have studied. Instead, though, I rested in a beanbag and sipped on soft drinks until we were finally called up to the dining hall to fill ourselves up again with dinner. Dinah, Hayley and Lizzie, as we sat down, got chatting about her upcoming nuptials to Napthali.


“Your mum’s doing the cake, isn’t she?”


Hayley nodded firmly.


“Of course she is,” Dinah confirmed with a grin. “We wouldn’t have asked anyone else.”


Dinner was served, a simple meal of chicken and chips.


“Bon appetit.”


“That’s all the French I know,” I admitted with a sheepish laugh.


“I know a little bit of Afrikaans,” Dinah chimed in.


The conversation about languages continued whilst we ate our dinner. I sent a text message to Mum, to confirm that we were still alive and having a good time. Tunes were put on, snacks and drinks came out. Ordinarily we would have been outside, breeze in my hair, maybe even around a campfire, but we’d been shifted inside due to the wet weather. Featherboas came out, wrapped around necks. John strode down our makeshift catwalk. He strutted his stuff, with perfect duckface, then dropped into a beanbag.


“Looking good.”


Lizzie pecked him on the neck. My ears felt a little sore. Perhaps it was the loud noise and the pumping music, finally catching up with me. I stood, needing to go to the bathroom, and wandered through into the darker areas of the cabin, tiles cool beneath my feet. After relieving myself, I washed my hands. I peered into another room, where some of the group were sucking glitter into their noses. I pretended that I hadn’t seen it. If Geoff had been there, he would have needed to step in. For a moment, gratitude flashed through me, that he was safely tucked away in bed, in Sydney. As much as I didn’t want a scene caused, I also didn’t want to be in danger. I scampered back into the light. It darkened my perspective of this crowd I’d fallen into. Finally, I encountered Lizzie again.


“Are you alright?”


“Yeah,” I answered, breathily. “Let’s go to bed, do you reckon?”


I found a bunk, snuggled in, and nodded off.


 

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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