As Abi shut the door to her room, something lightweight but scratchy hit her face. She flailed her arms, trying to both catch the object and guard her face from any more impending attacks. The item now lying on the ground was a duffel bag.

“We need to pack you some things. Although,” Cora paused, assessing Abi’s closet, “I have no idea what you could possibly wear from all this fashion faux poo clothing.”

Abi picked the bag up and set it on the bed, fidgeting with the straps. “What’s the plan?”

“You’re spending the night. Say we’re working on a project together or—oh! Say we just started my tutoring sessions.” She wiggled her brows, proud of herself.

“Okay, so what time is the party?”

“We probably won’t get there until around ten. Nothing much happens until then.” Cora thumbed through Abi’s shirts, picking out one that Cora had bought for her. “Oh, what about this one? Wait…what is this?” She held up the tag on it, turning to face Abi so fast that her blue hair fanned out and slapped into Abi’s face and mouth.

“You know I have nowhere to wear that to.” And Abi didn’t. It was a mostly see-through black top with tiny black sequins all over it.

“Well, you’re wearing it tonight. What cute bras do you have?” She started toward the dresser when realization dawned on Abi.

“I’m not wearing just a bra under this thing!” How did Cora even think that was an option?

“Do you want to look like Gram-Gram? No? Then wear something exciting!”

Abi stared.

“Okay, okay. You can wear a tank top under it.” She threw it in the bag for Abi and they packed up the rest of her clothes.

They descended the stairs, Abi holding her backpack, weighed down with books, and Cora with the duffel bag.

“Hi, Mr. Cole. Do you mind if Abi stays the night at my place? We wanted to work on an English project together.” Cora had spoken before they even rounded the corner to the dining room, interrupting a conversation between Mr. Flynn and Abi’s dad.

Warmth rose to Abi’s cheeks and she tried to put her mind elsewhere, to calm her nerves before her dad read her thoughts.

This is so stupid. It was a school night. What was she thinking trying to sneak around like this? She waited for the response she knew had to be coming.

“Is this necessary on a Thursday?”

“Well,” Cora drew the word out, “it’s not due until Monday, but we wanted to make sure we did all the research we needed to do tonight so we could write it over the weekend.”

Abi was impressed. Cora was playing toward a history buff’s obvious love for research.

“And you don’t want to stay over here tonight? You’re more than welcome to if you like, Cora.”

Mr. Flynn took a swig of his beer and Abi caught a smile exchanged between him and her mom.

“I don’t have any clothes, though, so I’d need to go home to get them and my English stuff. Plus my mom is baking a cake tonight, and I promised Abi she could have some.”

“Abi?” Her dad’s tone was harsh and Abi’s throat seized up. “You’re going to enjoy some of Joy’s cake without bringing some over here?” There was a chuckle at the table and Abi let out a loud, coughing laugh.

“Where’s Abi going?” Dread washed over Abi as her mom’s eyes widened in panic, looking from Abi to her dad. This wasn’t good.

“It’s okay. She’s going to go stay at Cora’s house to study.”

Hmm…” The word trailed off, bumping rhythmically as her mom rocked a few times, hitting the back of the chair. “Nope. Not safe. Not safe. Nope.”

Abi looked at Cora, wishing they could run out of the house and not have to worry about any of this.

“Mary.” Her dad’s voice was practiced—calm but firm. “Abi is going to stay at Cora’s house. She’ll be right up the road. She’ll be safe.”

“No, she won’t!” she screamed. A glass of water fell to the hardwood floor, shattering.

“Ben and Abi, upstairs. Cora, I’m so sorry.” Her dad ushered Cora toward the door as her mom grunted and swayed from one foot to the other. Abi obeyed, the excitement of the party gone.

Cora gave Abi a quick wave before the door clicked shut behind her.

Abi and Ben moved up the stairs, each pausing at their respective bedroom doors out of habit. They gave each other a quick nod before escaping into their own rooms.

She sat on the edge of her bed, listening to her dad and Mr. Flynn try to calm her mom down. It was all her fault. Her mom somehow knew she wasn’t going to study and now she had ruined the entire evening for all of them.

Nearly an hour had passed when Abi heard a knock on her door, two quick taps, a pause, and another one.

Her dad.

“Hey bug,” he said, stepping inside. “She’s lying down right now.”

“I’m sorry, Dad.” Her eyes stung and she blinked rapidly.

“It’s not your fault. Your mom’s just in a mood and that happens.” He checked his watch. “I think it might be a little too late for you to go to Cora’s, though.”

She waved her hand, trying to quell the traitorous blush. “It’s okay. We’ll work on it this weekend.”

No sooner had he said goodnight and pulled her door closed did Abi’s phone buzz.

Look out your window.

Confusion gave way to horror as she pushed her curtains back. Cora was looking up at her, hands stuffed into her jacket pockets.

The window squeaked as Abi pushed it up, cringing and waiting expectantly for her dad to come barging back into her room.

Nothing happened.

“What are you doing?” she whispered.

“We’re going to a party, remember? Come on, I already got your clothes down here.” The duffel bag was still slung over her shoulder.

“Are you kidding me? I can’t go out. Our plan kind of failed, remember?”

“Yeah,” Cora whisper-shouted, “and this is plan B. There’s a ladder right here, you just have to climb down.”

“Where did you get a ladder from?” Horrified, Abi imagined Cora sneaking into their garage. Would her dad notice? Had he heard something?

“Don’t worry about it, just come on, I’m freezing down here!”

Abi huffed. This was not panning out like she had imagined. Was this really worth it anymore? She had never snuck out before, and she wasn’t this person.

But did she want to be?

Heat spread through her body, her blood pumping faster. Was she really about to do this? She strode to her door, turned on her bedroom fan, and flipped the lights off. After hiding a few coats underneath her comforter, she surveyed her work. It wouldn’t hold up to closer inspection, but it would have to do.

She grabbed her things, slipped on her boots, and climbed outside. It was a cold night but she hardly noticed. The window closed quietly and she climbed down the ladder, shaking but more with excitement than anything else.

They laid the ladder down beside the house for Abi to sneak back in and jogged toward the trees. Abi’s back tingled with heat, afraid her dad might peak out the window at just the right moment to catch her sneaking off.

It took nearly ten minutes for them to loop back around to Cora’s car, which she had parked at Mr. Stone’s summerhouse.

“You can finally breathe again, girl!”

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Abi looked at Cora and had to bottle up a small squeal. Her limbs tingled with excitement, itching to run, to move. Was what she was doing really all that bad?

Goosebumps rose on Abi’s arms from the chilled air and the giddiness in her chest. The passenger side door to Cora’s car was locked, and Abi had to bounce on the balls of her feet to keep some warmth in her body.

“Open up!” she yelled, laughing.

Cora jumped inside the vehicle and reached across to unlock Abi’s door. “Your chariot, madam.”

A giggle exploded from Abi’s chest as she slammed the door shut behind her, breathless.

“Are you ready?” Cora gave a wicked grin and Abi tried to mimic the look, not entirely sure she’d done it right.

It had happened—Abi had officially been corrupted. She might as well have fun while she was at it.

Cora turned the car over and drove quickly to her own house.

A thousand questions flooded Abi’s mind but she pushed them all down. She didn’t want to ask questions tonight. She didn’t want to be the responsible one.

Several turns later, they pulled into Cora’s driveway. All the lights were on and Abi’s excitement grew, like a wave building inside her. Would it crash down or keep her buoyed for the rest of the night?