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Illustration: Giulia Rosa / Text Publishing

Mum pulls up across the road from Benny’s house (whoever Benny is – I’m still not entirely sure). I can hear the thump of music coming from the party. It seems very loud. I wonder if the police will turn up. Could I be arrested? I’m still getting used to the idea of going to the house of someone who doesn’t live with their parents.

‘You sure you’re okay?’ Mum asks.

I’m obviously still extremely mad at her about the separation, and even more so for lying to me for a year, but my anger is on a temporary hold for tonight so she could drive me to the party.

I’m freaking out and I need my mother.

‘Of course,’ I say.

But I don’t get out of the car. I’m so nervous I could throw up. I don’t know if Owen is there yet, but I don’t want to message him and ask. He said he would be there at eight. He didn’t say ‘I’ll meet you there’ or anything. He just wrote We’ll be there at 8 and the address. It’s 8.45. He must be in there. But he hasn’t texted me to see where I am, so he’s either not there or he’s there and doesn’t care that I’m not there. It’s a lose–lose scenario.

‘We can just go home, you know,’ Mum says. She has pushed me to socialise since I was ten years old, and now here I am at a party and she’s trying to sabotage me.

‘No thanks.’ I cross my arms, so she can’t see that my hands are shaking.

‘You can go to parties without going to this party,’ she says.

‘I’m going.’


‘In one minute.’


We sit in silence for about thirty seconds and then I open the door, but I’m still not quite ready to get out of the car.

‘Bye, Mum.’

‘Call me to pick you up.’

‘I’ll get an Uber.’

‘I can pick you up.’

‘I might…stay at Owen’s.’ I haven’t actually considered this possibility until the words come out of my mouth. Am I seriously planning on hooking up with Owen? Am I planning on having sex tonight? No. The idea is preposterous. Owen and I have had one conversation in our lives. We’re unlikely to make eye contact, let alone bodily contact, let alone kiss, let alone have sex. I don’t even want to have sex with him. But it feels important that Mum believes it could happen. That’s the first step towards it one day actually happening –  that other people look at me and think this person could feasibly have sex with someone.

Also, I want to test Mum a little.

‘Oh, Natalie, no, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’

‘Do I need your permission?’ I’m not being snarky or rude with this question. I genuinely don’t know. I turned eighteen seven weeks ago. I’m an adult. I. Am. An. Adult. I do not feel like an adult. I feel light years away from being an adult. I mean, I’m also still a teenager, which is a relief. I always had this vision of myself doing something important during my teen years. I didn’t think I would be a child prodigy, but I thought I would be something very close to it, and now I’m almost out of time. Before I know it, I’ll be twenty-one and no one will be impressed by anything I do.

I always had this vision of myself doing something important during my teen years, and now I’m almost out of time.

Mum purses her lips. ‘I suppose not. I mean, I like to know where you are. But you’re eighteen, so you can technically go wherever you want.’


‘Legally. Officially. In the eyes of the law.’


‘I don’t want my baby to stay at some boy’s house.’

‘Don’t call me your baby. That is gross and infantilising.’

‘You get a boyfriend and now you’re too good to be called baby. You’ll never have Patrick Swayze with that attitude.’

‘Patrick Swayze is dead.’

‘I know, sweetie. It was a Dirty Dancing reference.’ Mum made me watch Dirty Dancing, The Bodyguard and Muriel’s Wedding when I was fourteen, in order to, as she put it, ‘understand her emotional landscape’.

‘I get the reference. But it was weird to mention him.’

‘If I can’t make Dirty Dancing references, then end my life now because it isn’t worth living.’

‘He’s not my boyfriend.’


‘Owen. Just in case you somehow meet him and call him my boyfriend. It’s not like that. At all. We’re not even friends. We barely know each other. I don’t think he’d recognise me if we passed each other on the street.’

‘Well, why on earth are you thinking about spending the night with him?’ Mum says, her voice jumping about five octaves.

‘Because that’s what people do. Boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t really a big thing anymore. People are more casual now. They just hook up whenever.’ One of my superpowers is pretending I know a lot more about something than I actually do.

One of my superpowers is pretending I know a lot more about something than I actually do.

‘If boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t a thing any more, then what are Zach and Lucy doing?’

‘Being old-fashioned.’

‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned.’

‘I’m going now.’

‘I think you should at least wait until you know his surname.’

‘It’s Sinclair.’

‘Owen Sinclair? Didn’t he do something with a girl on a park bench once?’

I need to stop having these conversations in front of my parents. My mother retains far too much information.

‘No, you’re thinking of someone else.’ I turn to get out of the car.

Mum reaches out and puts her hand on my arm.

‘You’ve scared me. I don’t want to let you go now.’

‘Mum, probably nothing is going to happen. I just wanted to clear a path in your mind in case it does.’

‘Clear a path in my mind?’ She’s smiling.

I frown at her. ‘Yes.’

She pulls me back into the car and kisses my cheek. ‘Okay. Consider the path cleared.’

‘Mum, probably nothing is going to happen. I just wanted to clear a path in your mind in case it does.’

‘Bye, Mum.’ I shut the car door and start crossing the road.

I can hear the buzz of her window rolling down.

‘Bye, hon. Text me, too. I’ll be waiting up. And don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Don’t let anyone put anything in your drink. And don’t take drugs – you’re not ready for that. Have fun!’

Oh my god. I hurry away before she can think of another stream of mortifying things to call out. She hasn’t driven off yet, which means she’s going to sit there and watch me go in. I slow down as I approach the house, trying to look a lot more confident than I feel. There are two guys I don’t know, sitting on the steps leading up to front door. They glance up as I open the gate and walk towards them but continue their conversation. Should I say hi? I should say hi. I imagine myself saying hello in my nervous, too-formal voice and I imagine them raising their eyebrows at each other and then mimicking me behind my back as I walk in. I won’t say anything.

That’s safer. I should pretend to be on my phone. But it’s too late for that now. I’m right beside them. Oh god, is one of them Benny?

I pause at the steps and manoeuver awkwardly around them. They don’t even look at me or stop their conversation as I brush past.

The front door is open. There’s a long hallway with a stained carpet that could be grey or brown or blue, it’s impossible to tell, and music. I follow the hallway, peering into empty rooms as I pass them (a messy bedroom with an unmade bed and three guitars propped against it, another bedroom with posters of people I don’t know on the walls and a stack of dirty dishes on the bedside table) until I find a big lounge room where a bunch of people are sitting on couches and beanbags. The lounge room has double doors thrown open to a courtyard, and I can see more people out there, smoking and vaping. I can’t see Owen. Everyone looks so much older, even though I know most of them are only a year or two ahead of me.

I hover in the doorway to the lounge room, feeling like an idiot. I spend ten agonising seconds trying to look relaxed and normal, scanning every face desperately for Owen or Alex, and then I turn around and walk into the bathroom and lock the door.

I sit on the toilet for a while, and play on my phone until the battery goes down to 40 per cent (I somehow forgot to fully charge it this afternoon, an amateur mistake) and then I stop, because getting through the rest of this night without a phone is an unbearable thought. I should just text Owen. He might even be here and I just didn’t see him, but I can’t bring myself to go back out there. How do people do it? How do they walk into a room of strangers and join conversations? And even pretending I was comfortable doing that, I’m not sure this is the kind of party where that can happen. I don’t have the first clue of how to interact with these people, who all know each other and go to university together and are utterly comfortable in each other’s presence. I’m some weird high-school kid who’s spent her whole life reading about parties rather than going to them.

This is an edited extract from Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better In My Head (Text Publishing), our KYD First Book Club pick for August. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, Nina Kenwood’s Shelf Reflection column, and join us for an in-conversation event tomorrow, 22 August, at Readings St Kilda!

It Sounded Better In My Head is available now at Readings.