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blame it on christmas

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"Yeah, just… put it through there." Abby squeezes herself into the corner by her new front door as two moving guys carry the parts of her new dining table into her new apartment. It's been a whirlwind since their heartfelt reunion in a parking lot: Riley had to gap it back to Baltimore, Abby decided to go with her, and the only time they've been apart since then was when Riley had to go to work. They'd had the all-consuming rush of serotonin from the start of a new relationship, and Abby hadn't tried to fight it. She was happy.

She'd had spent the five long, lonely days at Riley's house knee-deep in making all the arrangements that go with moving cities in the space of three hours, culminating in Abby's taking over Evie's lease as Evie and Fran are (finally, apparently) moving in together. Riley had offered for Abby to move in with her, but Abby's had her fill of moving too fast. She wants to enjoy every part of being with Riley, even just dating her. And hey, she's only a five-minute walk away now.

"Hey!" Riley yells. Abby steps to the railing and looks down. Her heart skips a beat at the sight of her. She's two floors below, carrying two boxes of beer and several shopping bags. She looks slightly windswept, intoxicating as always. Abby doesn't even know what's in the bags. Her everything is still in Pittsburgh; John's driving over with her stuff tomorrow. Riley starts up the stairs and the top box wobbles like it's about to overbalance and douse the stairwell in hipster craft beer.

"Oh my god," Abby calls. "I'm coming down." She casts a glance back at the movers, who are lowering the table into place in the living room and definitely don't need her help.

She stops in front of Riley and scoops the top box of beers from her, stealing a quick kiss. "What even is all this?" she asks.

"Just some essentials," Riley says.

"Hmm," Abby says as they make their way back up the stairs.

The movers are waiting for them. Abby thanks them and tips them, then she and Riley collapse on the floor in the living room. Abby puts her cheek on the beige carpet.

"What do you think of it?" Riley says, gesturing up at the ceiling.

Abby pushes herself up on her elbows, looks around at the new-to-her table, the wooden beams on the high ceilings, the light walls, the big window, her duffel bag by the door. Riley's hair spills out in a pool next to her.

"It's perfect."

 

Sunday morning, Fran, Evie, Taylor, and Cherie arrive, ostensibly to help her unpack. Evie ceremonially hands her a loaf of plaited bread and a small glass jar of salt. "Family tradition," she chirps, hair in a frizzy blonde halo around her head, hugging Abby then Riley.

"Thank you," Abby says. "Wow, that, uh, smells delicious." She awkwardly cradles the bread, trying to figure out where on the expanse of empty kitchen countertop it should go.

"Abby, your house looks like a real estate agent's wet dream. You need some mess in here," Fran declares, opening the bare kitchen cupboards and gesturing. "This is the cutlery drawer of a serial killer. Friends, we have to get her some kitchen stuff."

"Guys, you really don't have to-" Abby starts to protest as Fran begins rattling off a list of items that she thinks Abby will need.

Evie touches her arm from behind, making her jump. "Don't worry. I'll find you some stuff we've been trying to get rid of anyway, and maybe we can go to the thrift store for anything we can't find already in our houses."

Abby still wants to protest this – she doesn't want to put them all out, make them do things for her, but Cherie is making notes and telling her they'll see what they have at home, and Taylor whips out a measuring tape to measure the space under the cabinet.

While Riley unpacks a box of bed linen that she's brought over, the others contribute various items – "I have a spare set of plates," and "Oh, my mom has been planning to get rid of her reading lamp."

This epic coordination effort, overseen by Fran, who is impressively good at it, is interrupted by John. He calls Abby, and she and Riley go to help him bring her boxes upstairs.

"You don't even have a juicer," John says, perusing her kitchen.

"I-" Abby starts to protest. She doesn't need a juicer.

"She doesn't even have a juicer," Riley agrees seriously.

Abby snorts, resigned to this. "Oka-ay. Shall we make IKEA trip?"

John shakes his head. "Sweet, sweet Abigail. IKEA definitely doesn't sell juicers."

"Well, that's my knowledge of Baltimore shopping options exhausted." They both look at Riley expectantly.

"Don't look at me; I've never even turned my oven on, let alone bought another appliance."

John's overly expressive eyebrows furrow. "There has got to be somewhere within a five-mile radius that sells a juicer."

 

They end up driving eight miles thanks to Yelp's helpful suggestions. Abby leaves her apartment in the capable hands of Fran and the gang, who have promised to unpack and set up what they can.

"So, you're a juicer kind of gal, huh?" Riley says teasingly, leaning through the gap between the front seats while Abby hunts for a park. She's been driving Riley's car in preparation for getting her own, something she hadn't needed in Pittsburgh.

"Ah… A little bit, I guess," Abby says, shrugging. "I am quite fond of green juices."

"Abby loves my fancy kitchen appliances," he confides to Riley.

Abby grins at him in the mirror. "Seatbelts, everyone?"

"Abby, we're almost middle-aged," John snorts. "I think we can take care of our own seatbelts."

Abby puts up her hands in mock surrender and backs them into the parking space. 

 

"Holy fucking shit," Riley says. "Who knew there were so many different kinds of kitchen appliances?"

Abby steps up behind her, so the three of them are arranged like the fucking Charlie's Angels, staring at the mammoth wall of mixers, blenders, juicers, fryers, and pressure cookers.

"I guess it is called Appliance Mart," Abby says apprehensively.

"Mmm."  

"Okay." John steps in front of both of them. "Split up. Abby, aisle 2. Riley, aisle 4."

"Who died and made you the appliance master?" Riley grouses.

"I think you mean the appliance mart-yr," John deadpans. Riley shrugs, like you can't possibly argue with that, and heads off to aisle four.

Abby goes one to the left, finding herself in towering stacks of boxes, all depicting air fryers, toaster ovens, and pressure cookers. She exhales sharply and starts down the aisle. Nothing looks like a juicer. She gets to the end of the aisle and turns back to the others.

"Found it," John hollers. Abby jumps, then follows his voice.

"No kidding," she says when she gets to him. There are about seven different options.

"Should've done some research," Riley says, eyebrows raised.

"Nah," Abby says, more confidently than she feels. "Let's go for…" she scans the price tags, picks the second-cheapest one. "This one."

"Sure?" Both Riley and John look surprised at her decisiveness.

"Guys, it's a juicer, not a wedding ring."

"Yeah, and look how well that worked out last time," John says.

"Oof!" Abby mock punches at him, but laughs nonetheless.

"Oka-ay!" Riley says, plucking the juicer from Abby's arms. "Let's keep going. You still need a toaster and a microwave."

 

When they return to Abby's new apartment with a trunk full of kitchen appliances, Fran and Evie are also there, waiting with a couple of full boxes outside Abby's door.

"Hi guys," Abby says, unlocking the front door. All five of them relay the various boxes inside, dumping them around the living room.

Evie hustles them over to a mismatched pile of boxes. "Abby, take a look. We've rustled up most of what we thought you'd need."

Abby flips open a box and peers inside. There's a small selection of plates, bowls, knives, forks, and spoons – nothing excessive, but definitely enough for just her. "Thank you so much," Abby says. "Guys – I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this."

Evie grins. "You are so welcome. We're so happy that Riley's finally found someone and that that someone is actually pretty awesome, hmm?" She nudges Abby's shoulder, and Abby ducks her head, smiling.

She turns her attention back to the living room, where Riley has decided to try and construct the IKEA coffee table.

"Here, pass the- fucking-" Riley makes an obscene gesture and Fran and John burst out laughing. Riley huffs. "The Allen key," she settles on.

While Fran and John stand around chuckling, Evie goes over to the toolbox, flicks through, and hands it over to Riley, rolling her eyes at Abby. Riley finally tightens the legs on the coffee table and gestures for Evie to help her flip it over. They settle it in the middle of the living room.

Riley dusts off her hands. Fran whistles. "This place is starting to look like a real home."

 

Riley takes her friends away so that Abby and John can have dinner together, which John keeps referring to dramatically as the Last Supper. John utilizes her shower while Abby goes out and picks up dinner. She would've liked to have cooked for him one last time, but somehow, despite now having cutlery and kitchen utensils aplenty, she still doesn't have any actual food.

She pours them both glasses of wine, setting them carefully adjacent to the knives. She already has a feeling they're going to get tearful tonight. John emerges from the bathroom with freshly blow-dried hair, gets his phone, and taps around until something relaxing starts piping through the speakers.

"Thanks," Abby says. She slides the garlic bread onto a plate, puts both of their meals into pasta bowls, and brings them to the table.

They talk about nothing and everything, and after a glass and a half of wine, Abby starts haltingly telling him about being with Riley, about being happy. He smiles fondly and raises a toast to, "a crazy Christmas with Harper fucking Caldwell, without whom you would never have been this happy," and Abby supposes that that's true, but it feels wrong anyway, so she frowns and shakes her head.

"To John Davies, who is the best damn friend anyone could ask for." Shit, she gets so maudlin drunk on wine.

"Aw," he says, clinking his wine glass with hers and hiccupping as he takes a sip. "That's much better."

"Hmm," Abby agrees.

He looks authentically emotional for a minute, and then shakes himself out of it. "It's time for an Adele moment," he says. "Come on."

Abby sighs but reaches out for him, putting her hands on his shoulders. He taps around on his phone for a moment, then the first chords of When We Were Young ring through the room.

"Really?" she says, smiling. It's a little too on the nose.

He ignores her skepticism and puts a hand on her shoulder, dramatically mouthing the words to the song. Abby realizes after a second that he expects her to lead. Again, she sighs, but begins to push him around in the most basic step she remembers from her dance elective. John looks delighted. Abby finally smiles, then laughs, as John immediately fucks up the dance and steps on her foot.

When they get to the chorus, neither of them has the heart to stay silent. "Could I have a moment, before you go-o," they both sing. John is really alarmingly tone-deaf.

By the second verse, they're not so much dancing as hugging and shuffling their feet, Abby's face resting on his shoulder. "I'm gonna miss you so much," she mumbles.

"Abby," he says, then buries his face in her shoulder with a loud sniffing noise.

Abby hugs him tighter, then slowly maneuvers them towards the couch, where they both sit and stare away from each other. Abby tries to wipe her eyes subtly, like she's not crying, just a bit damp.

"I'll visit you," she says eventually, voice hollow.

"I know," he says. "I'll visit you too. I'll visit you so much you'll wish I would go back to Pittsburgh."

"Never," Abby says, blinking furiously again.

"God, we're so pathetic," John says, at the same time that Abby says, "Fuck, I would hate us." She makes a funny huffing noise, and the spell is broken.

"Wanna watch something?"

"Love Island?"

"Definitely."  

 

Everything moves really fast after the weekend of unpacking. John leaves on Monday afternoon after taking her and Riley bowling (Riley took an additional day off in anticipation of Abby needing a lot more help with unpacking than she actually did). Both Abby and John cry a bit, and Riley leans against the car and pretends to stare into the distance for a good ten minutes to give them privacy.

Abby starts at Johns Hopkins, and it's full-on and nerve-wracking but really, really incredible.

She quickly finds a new rhythm, sleeping over with Riley about half the time, arriving at work early because she has an insanely short commute now, coordinating dinners with Riley and her friends, as well as her work colleagues, who are a surprisingly collegial bunch.

It takes her until Friday to realize that she hasn't even talked to John all week. She texts him and he immediately flicks back, Nice of you to remember I exist.

Sorry, she texts back. How is Pittsburgh?

I can't believe I'm saying this but I miss your stupid face being on my couch every day.

Miss you too, Abby writes.

 

Abby stacks up the books on her desk and slides one into her satchel. She looks at the pile of marking she has to do, thinks about leaving it until tomorrow, and then sighs. Better get through at least a couple tonight. She takes half the stack and puts it into her satchel too.

Then she locks her office up, calls goodbye to Anoushka, her next-door-office neighbor, and picks up her phone to call Riley. On Thursdays they usually eat and sleep at Riley's place, but Riley was gone before Abby got up this morning, so she hasn't actually spoken to her all day.

"Hi, babe," she says as she hits the call button on the elevator.

"Hi," Riley says. There's background noise, chatter, and Abby frowns. Riley usually leaves work around the same time as her.

"What do you want for dinner?"

A beat of silence. "I. Um, I have something on tonight."

Abby blinks. The elevator dings and she steps inside, hitting floor 1 on autopilot. "Oh. Okay." They haven't spent an evening apart since she moved here, pretty much.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" Riley says before Abby has a chance to ask what mysterious activity she's doing.

"Um. Yeah, okay. See ya."

Well, that was beyond weird.

 

"Where were you last night?" Abby asks as she slides a container of Pad Thai across the counter. Riley pulls a couple of forks out of the dishwasher and hands one to Abby.

"I… um. I had a thing." She hops up on one of the counter stools, opening up both of their dinners.

"Mmm…?" Abby raises an eyebrow. Riley's oddly cagey. Abby wonders if it has something to do with her brother.

Riley exhales deeply, then puts her fork down on the counter with a clatter. "You know how sometimes, something should really come up earlier in the relationship, and then it's been a while, and it's weird, and you don't really know how to mention it?" she says all at once, a furrow between her brows. Abby's only seen her look this worried when she FaceTimed her from the car before they met at the Holiday Inn.

"Is this about you being adopted?" Abby says, trying to break the tension. "Because I worked that out a while ago."

"What-?" Riley laughs, furrow disappearing. "No. Although, yes, I am adopted. Okay, I, uh, commentate for a local roller derby club. The season just started up last week."

"What?" Whatever Abby had been expecting, that was not it.

"I, you know, announce stuff. Tell everyone what's happening. It's… I'm funny, I guess."

"No, I get it." Abby nods. "That's cool, just… unexpected."

"Yeah." Riley laughs, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "Sorry, I probably should've mentioned it before."

"It's cool," Abby says. "Can I come to a game?"

"Hell, yeah."

 

Riley agrees that she can come to the next game the following Thursday. Abby drives over to the roller rink with Evie, because Fran plays in the league too.

"Of course Fran does roller derby," Abby says.

"Yeah, since university. She's the one who got me into it too, but I was always scared of showing up at work with a black eye."

They enter within a throng of people, all of them pausing at a table to pay the $10 ticket fee. Evie buys a purple All-Stars badge and pins it on the lapel of Abby's blazer.

"Thanks," she says.

Evie greets a bunch of people that she obviously knows through the league – partners of other players, Abby assumes. She doesn't introduce Abby as Riley's girlfriend, thank god. Abby's had that conversation with two of Riley's acquaintances already, and it's quickly become apparent that Riley was a chronic bachelor before her.

The two of them find seats, next to a couple of people that Evie appears to know more than moderately well, as she starts chattering away to them immediately.

"Hey, all you shes, gays, and theys!" rings out across the arena. Abby grins at the sound of Riley's voice. She looks out across the rink to see her girlfriend, dressed in a fitted men's suit with dramatic eye make-up, holding a microphone and hollering into it. Abby swallows sharply. She is gorgeous.

She skates around the edge of the rink, microphone in hand, honestly practically making out with it, and Abby kind of wishes she wasn't there with Evie because damn is she unreasonably into seeing her girlfriend at her most competent. And the suit doesn't help either.

One of the teams is awarded a penalty, which apparently means they have to do a mini-game from the "Wheel of Misfortune." Riley slides over to it, smooth as butter, and pushes up her shirt-sleeves to spin. Abby's mouth goes dry. The muscles in Riley's forearm flex as she grabs an edge of the wheel and spins it dramatically.

Two women arm wrestle, then the bout continues, with one team establishing a clear lead. Riley is hilarious. Abby knew she could deadpan, but this is on another level – she's constantly keeping up with the game, punning left, right, and center, performing dramatic gestures as she commentates. She also knows her stuff, which is very impressive. Roller derby is way more complicated than Abby would've expected – not that she's ever given it thought before, to be fair.

"That was so hot!" Abby hollers at Riley in the car on the way home.

"You think?" Riley says, turning to look at her with her dramatic eye make-up and a saucy grin. Abby laughs.

"Fuck yeah," she says, slapping the steering wheel.

They have such noisy sex that Riley's neighbors leave a passive-aggressive note in her letterbox, which they laugh raucously about and pin on the fridge.

 

"I'm going to Pittsburgh next weekend," Abby says. They're out for a walk in the park on a rare, sunny Saturday afternoon.

"Okay," Riley says. "Visiting John?" That will be nice for Abby. Obviously, they miss each other, from their comments on each other's Instagram posts and the lengthy phone calls they have about once a week.

"No, it's, uh… the anniversary of my parents' death." Abby takes a deliberate lick from her ice cream, not looking up at Riley. "I'll see John too, though."

"Ah," Riley says, reaching over to thread her fingers through Abby's hand. "I see."

Abby chews on her lip, then looks up at Riley briefly. "They… died in a car crash."

Riley nods. She doesn't want to press her, but she gets the feeling that Abby wants to tell her, wants to confess her demons before they go much further, that maybe this was a conversation she'd never had with other people, and so she needs Riley to know now. "I see," she says again, rubbing her thumb over Abby's hand.

Abby nods once, sharply, looking away. "They died when I was nineteen, halfway through my first year of university. That's why John and I are so close – he was in my dorm, we spent a lot of time together."

Riley nods again. She had wondered about the intense friendship between them – it seemed more like a sibling relationship than anything else, and this explains it. Abby sighs. Riley reaches over and hugs her gently.

Abby rests her head on Riley's shoulder and strokes a hand down her back, keeping pace with her. Her hand finds its place on Riley's waist.

They keep walking in silence, Abby's arm around Riley's waist, perfectly in step with each other.

 

Thanksgiving comes around more quickly than either of them anticipate – they're distracted with busy work schedules, derby, and generally spending all their free time together.

Riley, unfortunately, has to work the whole week of Thanksgiving bar Thursday, so instead of visiting her parents, they come to Baltimore.

They're watching Jennifer's Body on the couch before bed on Sunday when Riley asks, "Do you want to come over for Thanksgiving? I mean, I totally understand if you don't want to hang out with my parents or whatever, but… you know. I'd like to have you here."

Abby crinkles her eyebrows and says, "No, of course I want to. But your parents… they know about us? They'll be okay with me being there?" Mr. and Mrs. Bennett were nothing but polite to her at Christmas. Still, she doesn't want to impinge on their family Thanksgiving, and she especially doesn't want to have to pretend to be just friends with Riley.

Riley nudges her with her foot. "Of course they know about you. They even asked if you'd be here. My Mom has honestly been asking about you since Christmas – I think she's relieved I'm not going to be alone forever."

Abby nods, relaxing against her side, letting Riley's arm rest around her shoulders. "Okay. Yeah, I'll come. Do you want me to make something?"

"Whatever you like," Riley says. "I'm going to make empanadas – well, try to. Mom will take over the turkey even if I try to do it."

Abby laughs. "Your mom is serious about the holidays, huh?"

"Oh, for sure," Riley says, running her fingers through Abby's hair. Abby shivers with pleasure at her touch, leaning into it.

"My roots are getting way too long," Abby says, reaching up to touch her own hair.

"They are kind of long," Riley agrees. "Do you want me to ask the gang for a salon recommendation? Fuck knows I have no idea where will do a good dye job."

Abby laughs and shakes her head. "Nah, I do it myself. Thanks, though."

"No kidding," Riley says.

 

Abby pops to the store on her way home from work on Tuesday evening. She gathers the ingredients for a sweet potato casserole, her assigned dish, after a quick text back-and-forth with Mrs. Bennett. She also picks up some bleach and developer for her hair. Riley has agreed to assist her, with the caveat that she's "only ever watched other people bleach hair."

Abby's an old hand at this – one of the few precious things she owns is her bleaching kit: an old t-shirt, protective gloves, a measuring bowl and scales, and a couple of brushes.

Riley heats them up some leftovers while Abby prepares, putting everything in the bathroom away, measuring out the correct amount of powder.

They wolf down their dinner because Abby is keen to get to the bleaching part of the evening. Riley peppers her with questions about the process of bleaching. She seems to know way more about the science of it than Abby, and when Abby questions it, she explains that she was a Chemistry major in her undergrad. Abby thinks about the methodical way she helps Abby cook – no sense of improvisation – and her horror when she saw Abby pour laundry liquid without measuring it. "Makes sense."

After dinner, Abby separates her hair out into sections, tying each one up, leaving the back down. She puts Vaseline all around her hairline, and when Riley joins her in the bathroom, she risks a kiss to her forehead, grimacing at the feeling.

"That's a lot more… uh. Slug-like than I expected."

Abby can't contain her laughter at that statement, or the scrunched look on Riley's face.

She sits down on the closed toilet and starts working the thick paste into her roots with a brush, being careful to coat each strand. It's kind of hard to see at the back, even with the mirror, and eventually, Riley reaches over and takes the brush off her.

"Let me," she says.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, of course," Riley says. She works the brush over a section of Abby's hair and then moves onto the next, gentle with Abby's scalp.

"Make sure you get all of the dark bits, and not on the already-blonde parts," Abby says, a little anxious at the prospect of not doing it herself for the first time in more than a decade.

"I'm being careful," Riley reassures her.

"Okay," Abby sighs. "I trust you."

Riley is cautious, gently stroking the bleach into her hair. Abby supposes that her steady hands are due to her medical training, but it's very soothing all the same.

"I can do the front, it's much easier," Abby says once Riley finishes the back.

"Are you sure? I'm enjoying this," Riley says gently, working one of the hair-ties out of the front part. "Stay still," she chides Abby as Abby looks up at her for reassurance.

"Thank you," Abby says, returning her gaze to her lap.

They wait for fifteen minutes after Riley finishes, doing a cryptic crossword together in the bathroom, and then Abby showers and washes the bleach out.

"It looks different to the tips," Riley notes when she gets out of the shower.

"I'll have to put some toner in it tomorrow," Abby says. "But this is good for now. Thank you so much."

"Anytime."

 

They're relaxing in the living room at Riley's on Sunday morning, Abby with a stack of grading; Riley with a cryptic crossword. Riley's mom calls just as she's about to crack the second-to-last clue, and Riley groans and excuses herself to go upstairs to talk with her mom on the phone.

"You are planning to come home for Christmas?" she asks, like she does every Christmas, and Riley says, yes, of course, like she does every Christmas.

"What about Abby?" her mom asks.

"What about Abby?"

"Will you be bringing her home for Christmas?" Riley's mom asks like she's perhaps lost all cognitive powers. She's been bugging her about Abby with renewed intensity since Thanksgiving, including asking with zero subtlety what Riley's 'intentions' are, and referring to Abby increasingly as a 'very sweet girl, ready for some commitment, hmm?' and once, only once, as, 'my future daughter-in-law.'

"Oh. Uh." They haven't actually talked about this at all; it cuts a bit close to the awkwardness of last Christmas. "I'm not sure. I'll ask her."

"You'll have to figure out what to do about the White Elephant if you do bring her," her mom warns.

"Yeah, I know." Riley sighs. "Are Patricia and John coming to us this year?"

"That's right." Riley can hear the forced jolliness in her voice.

"That'll be fun, ol' Pat and Johnnie."

"Riley," her mom says warningly, then, "I'm going to make such a delicious ham that she will never even dream of trying to put it in a potato salad."

Riley snorts. Her mom can hold a food-related grudge like no one else. "Okay. Talk later, mom."

"Love you, sweetheart! Say hi to Abby for me."

"Love you too. Say hi to Dad for me."

Riley goes back downstairs, where Abby is grading papers on the couch.

"These students really need to learn the meaning of socialist realism," she says with a sigh.

"Ah," Riley says, raising an eyebrow. "My mom wants to know if you want to come home for Christmas."

Abby drops her pen.

That's not a positive response. Riley chews her lip.

"Uh," she says. "I mean, I'll have grading to do…"

Riley can tell a dismissal when she hears one. "Okay. No pressure…" She exhales softly. "But the offer's open if you change your mind. We can even skip the White Elephant and go down to the Oxwood." She doesn't want to sound too needy, but she does want Abby to know that she wants to spend Christmas with her.

She wants to… decorate the tree with her, and make cookies, and do all the stupid Christmassy shit she's avoided for the better half of her life. She wants to wake up with her, ideally not after a long cry about Harper fucking Caldwell. But after last year, she understands Abby's Christmas-related reticence.

"Thanks," Abby says. "Come here." Riley obliges, leaning over the stack of papers on the couch. Abby grabs her neck and pulls her in for a kiss.

 

"Come on, come on, come on, we're gonna be late!" Abby says.

Riley groans. "I know, I know, I'm sorry!" She's still only half-dressed, and they're meant to be meeting the gang at a karaoke bar… five minutes ago. She'd had to stay late at work today. Bad timing.

They get roundly mocked for their tardiness when they arrive. It's Fran's birthday, and she has mandated that everyone has to sing at least one song.

This poses no difficulties for Riley, who throws back three shots as proffered by the gang, and follows Evie to the stage. Evie's clearly already queued something up because she just hands Riley a microphone.

There's a second of hesitation before the song launches into the guitar riff. Abby laughs out loud – Mr. Brightside is a bold choice – but both Riley and Evie are getting really into it. Fran laughs too, clapping them on.

Evie throws an arm around Riley, and Riley brings the microphone close to her lips, close enough to kiss it, and sings, off-key and off-time, into the chorus: "She's touching his chest…" She waves at Abby enthusiastically, and Abby laughs and waves back. Evie and Riley toss their heads back and forth in time, hair whipping around dramatically.

Evie disentangles the pair of them and backs away a few steps, pointing at Riley as she hollers, "Jealo-ousy, turning saints into the sea," shoulders shimmying, "swimming through sick lullabies, choking on your alibis," spreading her arms wide and hollering into the microphone, grinning, eyes closed, lost in whatever's going on in her head.

Abby's in love with her.

When she returns from the stage, Abby jumps up, wraps her arms around her, and shouts, "I love you, Riley Johnson!" in her ear. Riley laughs and caves to her gesture, squeezing her close, kissing her ear a bit sloppily.

Fran gets up and does a rendition of Baby Got Back, demonstrating a surprisingly good knowledge of the entire song. Riley encircles Abby in her arms, grinning next to her ear.

The others, one by one, choose songs straight off a playlist called Songs that get white people turnt, eventually leaving only Abby. "Abby, Abby, Ab-by!" Fran starts up a chant until she caves. Riley raises an eyebrow, offering to go with her, but Abby shakes her head. She's a few drinks down, liquid courage, and she can do this by herself. She's with her friends, and she's with Riley, and Riley will probably video this and send it to John, and everything's good. She feels her heart overflowing with exactly how perfect her circle has become.

She knows she risks mocking for her choice, but it's what she wants, a classic school disco song, the song that everyone knows when it comes on a playlist. She picks Heaven is a Place on Earth, even though it's early and a bit stupid.

"Woo!" Evie cheers her on with a holler as the opening chords play. She inhales deeply, brings the microphone to her mouth, and sings. "Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth? Oooh, heaven is a place on earth!" She punctuates it with a bumping nod and a fist pump, trying to forget how ridiculous she looks and instead remember how sing-alongs are Riley's love language.

She opens her eyes and catches her girlfriend's eye. She's grinning, raising her glass to Abby.

The rising chords catch her somewhere in her chest and even though she tries not to be moved by this song that definitely belongs on a meme playlist, she can't help it. Looking over at Riley, she calls out, "Baby, I was afraid before; I'm not afraid anymore!"

After the song finishes, she trips down the stairs, joins Riley and her friends, and drinks.

Slowly, they wrap up the night, finishing drinks, toasting to Fran's birthday. Riley calls them an Uber, and as they wait near the door for it to arrive, Abby slings her arm around Riley's waist.

"I'll come home with you for Christmas," she says. It slips out, almost, a thought that's been floating around on the tip of her tongue since earlier this evening.

Riley stiffens. "Really?" she asks.

Abby nods against her shoulder. "Yes. Really."

"Okay," Riley agrees softly. "I'd really like that." 

 

"Have you got everything?" Riley calls.

"Yes!" Abby calls back. "Wait, let me double-check your parents' gifts are in there."

She flicks through her backpack one last time. The presents are present and accounted for: fancy chocolates for both Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, some silly Christmas-themed photo accessories and black-and-white Polaroid film for Mr. Bennett, and a nice coffee-table book about Renaissance art for Mrs. Bennett. Riley has a bag of matching Santa hats for the four of them – she'd reassured Abby that her dad loved a good Christmas gimmick when Abby had expressed doubt.

Abby closes the trunk and goes around to the passenger seat. "We're good," she tells Riley.

"Okay, great!" Riley grins and starts the car. "Now, prepare yourself. I've made the best road-trip playlist ever."