CHAPTER THREE

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Ben’s luck was getting better and better. The gut-wrenching despair he felt earlier in the day had only gotten worse. Not only had he failed Mr. Flynn’s test that day, but Mr. Flynn was also coming over for dinner.

Because, as Ben had all the luck in the world, his dad just so happened to be best friends with Mr. Flynn.

To the point that several years ago, Ben and Abi had to make a conscious effort to stop calling him Uncle Ravi—the adults unanimously considered it unprofessional.

In the beginning, Ben thought he would have an easier time getting away with slacking off in class. He quickly learned that would not be the case. Instead of turning a blind eye to Ben’s lack of motivation in academia, Mr. Flynn seemed to push him even harder. He never, ever let Ben off the hook.

So, after just one semester of his class, Ben had grown to hate Mr. Flynn.

A lot.

“Ben! Help me set the table.” His dad’s voice bellowed up the stairs. Ben was sitting in his computer chair, waiting until the last second to head downstairs. Which had come, apparently. He rose from the chair and headed toward his door just as his phone buzzed. A girl from one of his classes had texted him.

Before he could respond, his big toe met with a solid hockey bag on the floor. His phone launched across the room and he stumbled over the bag before catching himself. He gripped the edge of his dresser, fighting down a string of curse words. The pain built up and up as Ben hissed between his teeth.

Just perfect.

He shoved his hockey gear aside and trampled on the clothes littering the ground.

As soon as he opened his door, he could hear the clamor of people downstairs. Abi had invited Cora over and their loud chattering drifted up from the living room.

Ben always thought Cora was such an odd girl. He couldn’t keep up with her changing hair colors and didn’t much care to. There were plenty of rumors around school concerning Cora, and Ben didn’t want her being a bad influence on his little sister.

The scent of spiced Italian food wafted up to him as he descended the stairs. His stomach growled and he remembered he had skipped lunch that day.

Neither girl glanced up from Abi’s laptop as he passed through the living room. His dad was sliding chopped tomatoes on top of a large bowl of salad.

“Why can’t Abi set the table?” Ben grumbled as he opened the kitchen cabinets.

“Because she has a guest. And you watch your tone with me.” His dad took a beat to look Ben square in the eye, pointing the salad utensil at him. This small chide wasn’t enough to calm Ben down, but he knew he’d be better off not making matters worse. He rolled his eyes and got to setting the table.

Just as he had set the last plate down, his mom rounded the corner. She was dressed nicely, with her dark hair brushed through and loose around her shoulders. She wore a plain green dress but, on her, it looked fancy. Her usual attire consisted of a dingy nightgown and knotted hair.

“Bennie.” She smiled at him. Mr. Flynn’s visits always seemed to bring her back to life. Instead of jumping at the opportunity to talk to her, though, Ben remained silent. What was so special about Mr. Flynn? Their dad’s best-friend got more attention from her than her own children, and it was enough to make his insides pulse with molten anger. A child shouldn’t be jealous of their mother’s attentions, but she made her preferences so obviously clear. He assumed this was why Abi always invited Cora over for these monthly dinners as well—so she didn’t have to put in the effort to avoid the uncomfortable shift in their mother’s personality.

Their mom stood awkwardly near the table and flinched when the doorbell rang. She jumped, but her moment of terror switched to warmth.

Mr. Flynn was here.

“I’ve got it.” Her voice was light and pleasant as she strode toward the door. Ben balled his fists where he stood. Those three little words were the most lucid thing she had said all week.

He wondered how his dad felt about all of this but he seemed his usual self: calm and positive.

Except when he would talk to Ben, of course. Because Ben was always doing something wrong. Abi was the picture-perfect child and their mom couldn’t help herself. But Ben was always in trouble.

Avoiding Mr. Flynn’s gaze as much as possible, Ben sat down beside him. His unfortunate, yet normal, spot.

Mr. Flynn paid special attention to his mom before striking up a conversation about whatever historians talked about. Ben listened with strained ears but didn’t hear the conversation. He was too busy listening for words like “test,” “grades,” and “failing” to comprehend what anyone was saying.

Ben monitored Mr. Flynn from the corner of his eye, searching for some kind of sign that he would spill the beans.

No sign yet.

 

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