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Wander

Katie and I were sitting beside the counter. Even though the library had recently closed, there were still books to process. When I heard a knock at the glass doors, I glanced up. Katie grinned.


“Hot guys like him don’t usually come to the library,” she quipped.


Standing, I shook my head at him.


“Geoff comes to the library,” was my only retort.


“Oooh, oooh, Nina’s got a crush,” Katie jeered.


I blushed.


“Keep returning,” I instructed.


“Don’t you mean you want him to keep returning?” Katie quipped.


I laughed.


“Just get back to work, Katie,” I advised. “You’re my fifteen-year-old cousin.”


Katie smiled at me dreamily.


“Besides,” I added, “Timmy runs the support group.”


“Oh.” Katie gulped.


She dropped into a crouch and resumed unpacking the books from the shelf.


“Hello Nina,” Timmy greeted. “How have you been?”


“Goodish,” I answered. “We won hockey today.”


Timmy held his hand back and grinned. Focusing on his elbow, we high-fived. It was only then when I smiled, pleased with myself that I hadn’t accidentally slapped him in the process.


“Hello,” Katie blurted out as she popped up from behind the counter, beaming at him.


Timmy’s hand fell to his side as his eyes were drawn to Katie.


“Timmy, this is my cousin, Katie,” I introduced. “She works here on a casual basis. She’s fifteen, in Year 10 at school.”


My glance flicked between them.


“Katie, this is Timmy, who runs the support group here,” I explained.


They linked hands and firmly shook in greeting.


“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Katie,” Timmy responded.


“Trust me,” Katie quipped. “The pleasure’s all mine.”


Their hands awkwardly lingered.


“Well, it’s practically library closing time,” I mentioned, glancing towards my watch. “I’m sure that Aunty Melissa will be here soon.”


Katie nodded her head, her hand finally dropping from Timmy’s. She departed, waving and twirling on the way out. I felt a pang of discomfort within the pit of my stomach, as the others started to arrive for the support group meeting, taking their seats while Timmy put them out, and I made sure that the library was as tidy as it ought to be. As I sat down, I felt a sudden craving for alcohol. Timmy held the news bear in his strong fingers.


“I have news first,” he announced.


“Please don’t tell us that you’re leaving,” Clementine begged.


“No, I’m not leaving,” Timmy confirmed. “We’ve been contacted to see if we would like to host an event to raise awareness for your loved ones.”


Brigitta leaned back in her seat and folded her arms defensively in front of her chest.


“Who has contacted us?” she wanted to know.


“The Yardstick Society,” Timmy answered. “You know, they run sausage sizzles, concerts and the like.”


I nodded.


“My aunty’s in the Yardstick Society,” I mentioned. “She didn’t mention anything to me, but I know that there are a lot of clubs of it around.”


“Are they any good?” Brigitta questioned.


“They do lots of charity events,” I answered, “raising money for hospitals and bits and pieces, mainly. I would be interested in running an event to raise awareness. When were they thinking?”


“Friday week,” Timmy replied. “They have already organised the church hall for a trivia night.”


“I kind of know people at Matthew Road Anglican,” I mentioned. “Mitchell went there.”


Timmy looked towards me. He handed over the news bear, across Mick and Debbie, as if it was an olive branch, and I accepted it readily, because I knew that I needed to lay down my weapons even though my chest felt as tight as ever. I cuddled the bear against my body, then loosened my grip just a little bit, so that I wouldn’t break the thing.


“Nina, you were on set with the documentary yesterday,” Timmy noted.


I knew that he was trying to help and I was truly grateful for that, that he would be so sensitive to letting me tell my own story, even though he’d been there too. He’d used up his turn with the news bear, by bringing up the possibility of being involved with the trivia night.


“I was,” I confirmed, my heart feeling lighter that I would have been expecting. “Hank, who is Clara’s partner, is a distant cousin of mine. It’s been a big week.”


I took a breath.


“We thought that we’d found him, in Austria.”


My downcast expression betrayed the end of the story.


“It turned out that it wasn’t Mitchell, after all.”


Clementine fetched a bag of corn chips from the snacks which had been provided on the table. I couldn’t bear to continue telling the story, so I passed the news bear on, letting others speak. Clementine passed over the bag to Lorelai, as my heart thumped with expectation.


“Oh my goodness, I ate so much when I was at school,” Brigitta remarked, “then I found out that I was pregnant, and that explained a thing or two too.”


I tried not to pull a face of surprise. Glancing around the library, I knew that I was seeking a drink. The others offered their sympathies.


“I mean, for a moment, I really believed that it could have been him.”


“I don’t doubt that this would be incredibly difficult for you.”


My sinuses started to fill up. Thankfully, Timmy passed me a tissue. I found his presence calming, even though he couldn’t take the pain away.


“What’s the next step in looking for Mitchell?” Timmy wanted to know.


“Well, I don’t know.”


The support group meeting eventually came to an end. I helped Timmy lock up the library, then stepped out into the dark. Sitting in the car I called Rose.


“Hey. Sorry to bother you.”


“It’s alright. What’s happening?”


“I’ve just finished the support group meeting.”


“Right, how was that?”


I rolled my lips as I sighed.


“Oh, they were lovely, but--.”


Just because they could relate, didn’t mean they held the answers, either. Neither did Rose.


“Would you like me to come over? I’m in the area?”


“Oh, God, that would be wonderful.”


We ended our call. I swiftly drove home. Arriving shortly before Rose did, I knew that I needed to refresh my hair dye if I wanted to save myself from regrowth. Therefore, I was glad when she agreed that she would help me out with it.


“I’m so glad that you’re here.”


I leaned my head back, into Rose’s waiting hands. She threaded her fingers into my hair. They were lathered with shampoo, which foamed easily.


“Thanks, Rose,” I told her. “I could only put up with my dark roots for so long.”


I sighed softly.


“I just don’t want to change until Mitchell is back,” I admitted, “because I’m not moving past him.”


Rose did not speak. In the mirror, I noticed that she was nodding with understanding.


“I can barely believe that it’s been two whole months since Mitchell went missing.” I breathed out, then pressed my lips together.


“How long have you had your pink hair for?” Rose wanted to know.


“Only since December,” I answered. “I dyed it on New Year’s Eve. Mitchell helped me.”


Rose smiled.


“Begrudgingly?” she queried.


“I’m wrapped around his little finger,” I confirmed. “I said that I wanted to try pink hair and so Mitchell helped me dye it.”


I paused a little, the smile which had crept onto my lips fading.


“A bit like you now,” I murmured.


Rose’s fingers slipped a little from my soapy locks. She did not speak. I glanced up and caught Rose’s gaze in the mirror over the basin.


“Thank you, Rose,” I insisted. “I’m sure that this isn’t really part of the job description.”


“Well, probably not,” Rose admitted, “but I’ve never sort of been a regular counsellor. I’m not a ‘sit down on the couch and tell me how you feel’ sort of counsellor. I just feel like it is my job to do what you need, and right now you need your hair dyed.”


“Well, I suppose I do,” I confessed with a bit of a giggle. “Thank you, Rose.”


“No worries,” she replied. “I think that we’re ready to rinse.”


“Alright.” I stood up carefully as Rose took a step back. “I think I’m right now.”


“Alright,” she echoed. “Would you like me to stay out in the lounge room?”


“Only if you want to,” I replied.


“I will,” Rose confirmed. “Your mum might make me a lovely cup of tea again.”


She smiled cheekily as she exited the bathroom. I mirrored Rose’s grin.


“Hopefully,” I replied.


I closed the bathroom door and carefully stripped off my clothes, without smearing my soapy hair. Opening the shower door, I switched on both the hot and cold taps, balancing the temperatures.


 

The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She is studying 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 theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. A candidate for Honours at the University of Technology Sydney, 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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