CHAPTER ONE

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Tap, tap, click, tap, reeek.

Every sound in the classroom amplified in Ben’s ears. He couldn’t think straight. A blank paper sat in front of him.

Well, not completely blank. It held the stark black writing of questions and his name at the top…no wait, not even that. He rushed to pencil in his name. How stupid would Mr. Flynn think he was if he couldn’t even get his name right?

He looked at the question at the top of the page again.

   What three key events led to the Civil War?

Slavery? That was a thing, though, not an event. Ben didn’t have a glimmer of a memory of ever learning about this topic. The more he focused on it, the more he felt like this was just a sick joke. No one knew these answers. Right? He glanced around. Everyone else seemed to be in a writing fury. Shit. Why did he always back himself into these corners?

Mike’s pencil was racing across the page. Even he had answers for these questions. Had he studied and not told Ben?

Something swelled up inside him—shame. He would surely have the lowest scoring test out of the entire class. He couldn’t believe Mike would do that to him.

“Eyes down.” Ben met Mr. Flynn’s gaze for a brief instant before looking back down at his paper. His coffin.

Most people would fail a test or two and then get their act together. Not Ben. He pretended it never happened and then managed to pass every year.

That’s what happened when you were on the varsity hockey team. Things like grades and unexcused absences got brushed under the rug, but only if you were a key player. And thankfully Ben had spent all of his study-time practicing so he could be one of those key players.

It didn’t seem like it was paying off anymore. He rubbed his hand across his pant leg, hating how he felt. That sweaty, heart-racing sensation when you know you’re dumber than the rest of your classmates. When you’re the lowest on the IQ totem pole out of anyone around you. Hell, maybe even the whole school.

But he didn’t study. Mike usually didn’t either, so Ben never felt like a total failure. He always had company. They received their passing grades and didn’t care about the score.

That was the issue: they weren’t passing. Not in Mr. Flynn’s class.

Next question.

   Who was president during the start of the Civil War and what specific piece of advice did his staff give him?
Ben’s stomach felt like he had eaten a boulder for breakfast. These questions weren’t ones he could even try to bullshit. But he had to put something down. Students were already getting up to turn their papers in, and the back of his neck burned thinking they would see his empty page as they passed.

He had to write something. Everyone would see just how stupid he was and people would whisper and the news would spread like wildfire.

“Ben didn’t write a single thing on his test in Mr. Flynn’s class today.”

If he had just paid attention in class…

Hockey plays. Mr. Flynn would think him a complete idiot but at least no one else would see an empty page. He began furiously writing, knowing he didn’t have much time left. When the teacher called for the end of the test, each of the nine short answer questions had nine corresponding plays in them.

“Pencils down, everyone. Pass your tests to the front.”

Ben couldn’t get rid of his fast enough, but hoped it wouldn’t end up on top. One tiny glimpse would prove none of his answers had anything to do with history.

 

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