The first chapter of 'Something Bad Is Going To Happen', by Jessie Stephens.

This is an excerpt of Something Bad Is Going To Happen by Jessie Stephens. 

The music is so loud Adella can feel it in her chest. She wonders if it might explode through her throat. 

She watches a girl a few spots ahead of her in the line move her head to the rhythm, as though by accident. She seems entirely unaware she’s being watched, occupying her own simple world where once there’s music on, you move to it. Your body has no choice in the matter. 

Adella wishes she were more like that.

Adella wishes she were a lot of things. 

Living in the back of her mind is a version of herself she likes much more. This Adella knows there is room for something funny to be said, and says it. This Adella moves without the stiffness of someone being watched and reads books about clever things she effortlessly recites and doesn’t have an underwear drawer full of undies with various nondescript stains in the crotch. Every night when she goes to bed, she sets early alarms and compiles heaving to-do lists, ready for this new person who possesses none of her flaws or weaknesses. She spends her last waking moments fantasising that she will be someone different tomorrow, and as she drifts off to sleep, she absolutely believes it. 

She becomes aware of the silence hanging between her and Sophia, but when either tries to say anything they can barely hear each other. She wonders if Sophia is having fun yet. This would be a good moment to say something but she doesn’t know what. Instead, she looks in the opposite direction, as though she’s come across something very interesting. 


By accident, she does. The woman whose head she was watching a moment ago has turned around and she has a face Adella recognises from some social media app. She’s not famous or anything. Just a girl her age who boys at St Luke’s used to talk about, with a face that makes you want to look at it for longer, from different angles. Her handle is something like ‘@its_bronte’. She’s taller than Adella and looks how you’d expect someone to look who shares their name with an iconic beach. Thin. With Bambi eyes, the kind that look curious but perpetually disappointed in everything they happen to come across. Her height makes Adella feel short and slouched. Her clear, unmade-up eyes make Adella feel tacky. Her lilac shift dress with its high neckline makes Adella feel cheap and overexposed. The girl laughs at something and whispers to a friend to her right, and when Adella catches Sophia staring too, she wonders if Sophia would rather be here with them. 

She stands up straight and imitates the energy they have. 

‘Is Daniel still coming?’ Her tone is purposefully light. 

‘Yeah, the rest of the St Luke’s boys are coming too. They’ve been at a uni party, I think . . .’ Sophia pulls her phone out of her black shoulder bag, using Adella’s question as permission to check if Daniel has texted her yet. Adella wonders how much time has to pass since graduating before you stop referring to groups of people by the school they went to. It’s been two years. 


She knows that means Nathan might be coming. That’s who she was thinking about a few hours ago when she closed her eyes, letting Sophia swipe fancy colours across her eyelids. The others call him Nath but she doesn’t feel like she knows him well enough to shorten his name yet. She likes to imagine she will one day. When she looks at that group of boys, she cannot understand how anyone, Sophia included, can be drawn to anyone other than him. She’s met the girlfriends of the others and wonders if they, deep down, know they chose the wrong one. Do they notice Nathan when they all go out together? What happens when these people grow up? Do a group of married couples know their spouses were not created equal, with some objectively more desirable than others? 

Last time she saw him there had been a series of almost invisible exchanges, so small she’d been left wondering if they really ever happened. As they’d sat around the wooden table in Daniel’s backyard, she could have sworn she’d caught Nathan looking at her. When Daniel had finished with the barbecue, Nathan had brought her over a plate full of food. No one else. Just her. He slipped into the chair beside her and asked: ‘And what’s Adella doing with herself?’ There was something about how he said her name. Like he enjoyed it. But she’d thought all this before and ultimately embarrassed herself when she’d seen those same men with their tongues down other people’s throats on the dark dance floor at Fonda. Her sense of things had never been something she could trust. 

Once Adella and Sophia have their vodka raspberries they dance, looking at an unspecified point in the distance, pretending they’re not glancing towards the entrance. Again, Adella wonders if it’s possible that Sophia is genuinely enjoying this moment, while she, only centimetres away from her, is desperately uncomfortable in it. 


She keeps watching the women around her, their bodies moving as though their brains have stopped speaking to them. Free. Meanwhile her mind chatters away, suggesting she dance more like that or move more like her and where should she be looking? At Sophia? Isn’t that a little intense? Maybe over Sophia’s shoulder. She grabs two more drinks for each of them. How much does someone need to drink before their mind falls silent? 

‘Oh no,’ Sophia whispers into her ear while turning in the opposite direction. 

‘Wh–’ A man with chest hair that very nearly meets his facial hair grabs her hand while his two friends, one who is comically short, the other comically tall, laugh a few steps behind him. 

‘No. No,’ she says, glancing at Sophia who has spat out a mouthful of her drink onto her chin.

He gyrates his hips in too-tight white jeans and just as she clocks them, Sophia leans into her ear, ‘The shoes.’ 

How to describe them? A leather dress shoe. Maybe a loafer. The length of them competing with the length of his shin. Too big for a short man. She can’t remember why but she and Sophia call them elf shoes when really they should call them clown shoes. The man could be Leonardo DiCaprio, but if he is wearing these alligator skin–looking, olive abominations then they’d agreed no further contact was allowed. A shoe tells you everything you need to know about a person, Sophia often says, because it’s what people put on last when they’ve stopped trying so hard. A shoe will tell you the truth of their character. 


‘Can I get you two a drink?’ the man with the fur on his chest asks, getting his wallet out of his pocket as though to prove he has access to money. 

Before Adella has opened her mouth, Sophia turns around and says, ‘Yes please! Two vodka raspberries would be great. What’s your name?’ She asks this as if she gives a s**t. 

‘Ro–’ The music cuts off the remaining syllables. 

‘Thank you, Ro-naaaaz,’ Sophia exclaims, patting him on the shoulder for encouragement. 

‘You’re a bitch,’ Adella says. She watches Ro go to the bar with his wallet that looks like it belongs to someone twice his age. 

Sophia shrugs her shoulders. ‘I hope he doesn’t spill our drinks when he trips over his own shoes.’

They have almost forgotten about Ro when he returns with a tray of drinks, including a shot each. 

‘To two beautiful . . .’ he toasts, holding a shot glass in the air. 

‘To Ro-aallummuuula,’ Adella and Sophia murmur before pouring the warm liquid down their throats, burning on the way down. 

He asks them both questions they can’t quite hear, something about where they live maybe, and Sophia peers at him over her nose even though he’s only a few centimetres shorter than her. 


They smile and nod and then Sophia announces that they both need to pee, leading Adella to the bathroom by the hand. 

‘Okay, but what do we do now?’ Adella asks, sitting on a sticky seat while Sophia stands in the corner of the same cubicle inspecting the ingrown hairs on her knee.

‘We hide.’ 

‘I don’t know, it’s like . . . how much of our time are two drinks worth? Like, do we owe him ten minutes? Half an hour? He looked so proud with his stupid little tray.’ 

‘Hurry up, I’m about to piss myself.’ As they swap Sophia runs her fingers through the front of her hair. 

‘The man forced drinks onto us and as much as we’d like to continue hanging out, unfortunately we’ve lost him.’ She wipes. 

‘He’ll be where we –’ 

‘We. Lost. Him.’ 

As they exit the bathroom, his white pants glow in the dark, moving to the beat of a remix of an Adele song, and it’s one of the most unsexy things she thinks she might ever have seen. 

‘Hang on.’ Sophia holds her by the shoulders, stepping onto a piece of wet toilet paper stuck to the back of her black boot. 

‘You know, every time I think I might be hot,’ Adella says, ‘I realise I have wee-soaked toilet paper attached to my f**king shoe.’


‘I feel like that’s a metaphor for life.’ Sophia signals to their left. 

They stand behind some kind of indoor hedge, where they can see white pants but white pants can’t see them. 

‘There’s Daniel,’ Adella says, signalling with a nod a few seconds later, spotting him behind Nathan. They’re right near the door, shoving their wallets into their back pockets. Nathan’s nose and the outlines of his eyes are lit up by the screen of his phone. She wonders who he’s texting. 

Sophia puts down her drink and makes her way over to him, casually mouthing, ‘Hey.’ Adella sees her from Daniel’s point of view. She smiles up at him, her thin top lip disappearing, exposing the gum above her front teeth. On anyone else, that might not be beautiful. Perhaps a different person would make an attempt to hide it. But not Sophia. On her, it is endearing. It looks like she cannot help but smile as wide as her mouth will allow. 

Everything Sophia detests about her own body is what men love about it – hips and thighs and breasts she grew years before anyone else in their class. Whenever she tries to talk about how hard it was needing to wear a bra in primary school, Adella rolls her eyes. Boys – and now men – have always looked at her and seen someone simply beautiful, but women have the superpower of being able to determine exactly what makes her beautiful. It’s the combination of this with that, her perfect little nose and the dimple on her left cheek. They don’t just have the answer. They know exactly how they got there. 


When Adella first met Sophia in Year Seven she wondered if it might be a burden to have a friend who looked like that. She had met few people who came across Sophia and didn’t remark on what was so blatantly obvious. In one of their first classes in Year Seven, the English teacher had stopped mid roll call to exclaim that Sophia might have the most beautiful blue eyes she’d ever seen. Adella looked around the class, noting that Sophia was one of only a handful to have blue eyes at all, and wondered if that comment might make other kids feel bad. Like her. Who had brown eyes. ‘Poo brown’, according to a kid in primary school, who had laughed so hard he cried. When it got to her name on the roll, the teacher glanced up, catching her eye, before moving right along. Whenever Adella brought this memory up, Sophia pretended she couldn’t remember it. They both knew she did. 

The only people who didn’t tend to comment on Sophia’s obvious beauty were men who didn’t stand a chance. Muttering that they didn’t know what all the fuss was about was the only power they felt they had.

Daniel buys a tray of drinks, all vodka-somethings, and Sophia and Adella continue to dance together as though the others aren’t there, even though they’re right beside them. Sophia slurs something about Daniel being weird and Adella quickly dismisses her. ‘He’s literally watching you right now,’ she whispers. Sophia smiles. Adella considers telling her how beautiful she looks. The moment passes, and she doesn’t. 


‘Hope you enjoyed your drinks.’ They both look up to see Ro turn on his too-big heel, the too-tall friend muttering ‘sluts’ or ‘c**ts’ or some hybrid of the two. 

‘Who was that?’ Nathan whispers in her ear.

‘No idea,’ she says, glancing at Sophia whose eyes are wet with tears of laughter. 

‘The weirdest thing,’ she leans in towards Sophia, convinced she has stumbled across an idea that is nothing short of profound, ‘is that straight men and straight women... passionately hate each other.’ 

Sophia hisses ‘yesss’ and then starts inconspicuously doing an elf dance they learned from some viral clip last Christmas. 

Nathan disappears from her peripheral vision, and she spots him sliding into one of the deep red booths in the corner, across from a friend she doesn’t recognise. She shouts in Sophia’s ear, ‘I’m going to pee,’ but walks in the opposite direction. She finds herself passing the booth he’s in, his long legs taking up a seat for two. 

‘Adella!’ he shouts over the music, leaning towards her. ‘Come sit.’ 

He shuffles across on the sticky leather seat and then hunches himself over, directing a question about how her night has been into her ear. She tells him she was at Sophia’s before. Even though she’s fairly sure he can’t hear her, she likes how he leans towards her when she speaks, and then angles his mouth towards her ear when he speaks. He smells like Extra peppermint gum and faintly of cigarettes. The friend stands up and gestures as if to say ‘drink?’. Nathan nods. 


‘I’m glad you’re here tonight,’ he says, pushing his thick brown hair back off his face. ‘Daniel said you would be.’ 

‘Why are you glad I’m here?’ She cocks her head to the side with a grin. 

He shrugs. 

‘Just am.’ He squeezes her knee closest to him. 

She asks him about his trip to the Philippines, and then remembers they already had this conversation at the barbecue. She pretends they didn’t and hopes he has a very bad memory. 

The friend brings back drinks. They talk about uni. 

‘Sophia was saying you’re really smart?’ the other guy says, raising his eyebrows, daring her to agree. 

‘Don’t know about that,’ she mutters, bringing the short straw to her lips. It’s a vodka lemonade and she can barely taste the spirits anymore. She knows the question is a trap. But she’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy it. As much as she wishes she were more beautiful or outgoing, there is something more noble – more virtuous perhaps – about being clever. For as long as she can remember it has been her only point of difference. The extent of her value. The one thing about herself she has ever felt any gratitude for. She waits for Nathan to ask a follow-up question. Maybe about what she’s studying or why Sophia would say that. He doesn’t. 

At some point her indoor netball team comes up. Nathan says he’d love to watch her play. 


He leans in and says, ‘I bet you’re really good.’ She smiles and shakes her head, embarrassed at the thought of him ever watching her play. 

The silence between them makes her itchy so she begins telling him about the guy from before. ‘You know the one who came over to us?’ He nods in a way that suggests either he can’t remember or can’t quite hear her. 

She starts laughing and attempting to explain the shoes. ‘They are like these . . . elf shoes . . . and only a certain kind of guy wears them and they’re just so big. They can step on your toes even though they’re on the other side of the room . . .’ 

Nathan looks at her with a soft smile, and takes her hand mid-sentence, leading her to the bar. He strokes the back of her hand with his thumb, his palms soft and warm, nails curved like he cuts them rather than bites them. 

The rest of the night unfolds in a series of flashes, like blurred polaroids that haven’t quite developed. He kisses her at the table, his hand holding the back of her head. At one point she knocks her drink over and it spills onto her dress and thighs. She tells herself she’ll go and clean herself up, but that thought disappears as quickly as it came. Sophia mouths something – maybe that she’s going home. Then there’s a taxi. A window wound down. Wintery air. A dark street. ‘My parents are away.’ The smell of rain. An unmade bed. Nathan’s bed. It’s like she foresaw all this. She knew it would happen. She feels like this is living. 


He brings her water and they sit on the edge of his bed for a while. He shows her his computer. Apparently he makes music and there’s some program up with different-coloured squiggles. It occurs to her that he is trying to impress her, show her things about himself. She tells herself to remember this in the morning. He presses play on something and she doesn’t know what to do, so says it’s really cool. She asks three or so questions and then runs out. Maybe she should bop her head or something but that feels embarrassing. He must sense her discomfort, because he turns it off, finding an Apple playlist and pressing play on something she recognises by Pnau. He looks at her, his eyes steady, and brings his lips to hers. She lies down. Her head spins every time she closes her eyes, so she keeps them slightly open – reminding herself of where she is. 

He takes his own shirt off, and she smells his sweat no longer masked by cologne. It smells like her dad after he mows the lawn. Musky and stale. 

She grinds against his erection, her bare inner thigh sensing how hard it is, while her fingers run down his chest. It’s prickly, like her legs a few days after shaving. He kisses her neck as though he can’t help himself, licking up towards her ear. He reaches down and undoes his belt, his mouth hanging open as he focuses. His jeans and underwear land on the hardwood floor with a clunk, and a part of her thinks how strange this is. Him completely naked. Her still clothed. 

He rearranges her body like a pillow, then lays himself back on the bed, with her knees on either side of his hips. She kisses his neck, grinding harder, and he gently guides her head down the length of his stubbly torso. 


She steadies herself before doing what she knows she’s meant to. She flinches at the slightly sour taste. He pushes up into her throat, and she does what her high school boyfriend so patiently taught her to. She counts down in her head. Twenty more seconds and I’ll stop. Ten more seconds. But he puts his hand on the back of her head and she thinks about the essay she needs to finish tomorrow and how she’s going to get home. Her wrists hurt from holding herself up and her neck aches. She makes noises with her mouth to feign pleasure, and then she stops when she realises how ridiculous it must sound. 

She doesn’t know how long it goes on for. A while. She oscillates between feeling grateful she has Nathan Garcia’s dick in her mouth to feeling resentful that he hasn’t touched her yet. It’s not even about her feeling pleasure. She probably couldn’t after this many drinks anyway. It’s about him wanting to look at her. Her body being marvelled at and grabbed by a person who can’t help themselves. Glancing up, she sees that his eyes are closed, and when he opens them he stares at the ceiling. He speeds up, making noises. She complies. And then she feels him finish. She swallows, so as not to make him feel uncomfortable, before wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. 

He sighs and looks up towards the white ceiling, blank except for a pattern around the edges, and runs both hands through his now-damp hair. She rolls into the spot between his right arm and his body, and stares up too, as though they’re both watching the same blank thing. She pretends she is deep in thought, breathing heavily, but all she notices is how warm his body is compared to her cold arms and legs. After a few minutes he gets up to go to the bathroom. She hears the toilet flush. He comes back in, falls into bed, and faces the wall. 


She waits to see if he will turn over, shaking a little from the cold. A window must be open and she is on top of the covers. She breathes through pursed lips and quietly rolls over to the edge of the bed. She slowly collects her bag and her jacket, and picks up the shoes she kicked off when she walked in. He doesn’t stir.  

As she leaves the room, she closes the door with a thud. Louder than it needs to be. She wants him to know she left. 

She walks down the street, the cold running through the soles of her bare feet all the way up to her neck. A few times she glances behind her, as though he might appear and ask her back inside. Her shoulders creep up towards her ears, and her teeth chatter uncontrollably. She should put her boots on, but her toes and ankles hurt, and the cold is a distraction from what’s going on in her head. 

She notices that half the streetlights aren’t working, and wonders if people would complain about the lack of visibility if her body was to show up, lifeless, the next morning. 

Probably not, she thinks. 

There would be greater emphasis placed on the fact she was walking, alone, barefoot, at four o’clock on a Sunday morning in the middle of June, basically daring a predator to jump out from behind a suburban bush. If they did, then Nathan would probably feel very guilty about not even saying goodbye. What an awful thing to think. 


She sniffles and hugs her arms into her chest. It’s starting to drizzle again, as though the clouds can’t entirely commit to raining. As though they, along with the rest of Sydney, would just like a few more hours’ sleep. 

She looks up ahead and can see the lights of a main road. Finally. Once she’s there, hopefully she can hail a taxi. Her stomach lurches at the thought of how much it will cost. She cannot afford to do this. 

The thought of being in a car with a stranger makes her feel suddenly visible. She pulls at the skin beneath her eyes, trying to erase any smudged mascara. She hates how her body smells. Like someone else. His sweat has settled into her pores and she rubs where he licked her neck with the edge of her leather jacket. The stamp on the inside of her right wrist has turned into an inky blur. She just wants to be in the shower. A scalding-hot, quiet shower. Then bed. 

Maybe in the morning there will be a message from Nathan. 

She smiles at the possibility.

You can purchase Something Bad Is Going To Happen by Jessie Stephens right here or at all good bookstores. 

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Something Bad Is Going to Happen. Publisher: Pan Macmillan.

Feature image: Supplied.

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