The time ticked slowly on.

Nearly an hour after dinner, Mr. Flynn asked Ben to step outside with him. The entire family had been in the living room, Mr. Flynn and his dad were drinking a beer while they reminisced about their college days. Abi and Cora had gone back to their laptop, sharing a large recliner.

Abi’s quick glances at their dad and their hushed voices had seemed like they were trying to be sneaky. He would ordinarily tease Abi for something like this or devise a way to snatch the laptop away to see what they were up to. But he had been too tired for that.

Ben led the way out onto the enclosed patio. It was heated like the rest of the house but Ben could feel the cold emanating from the large windows. The full moon cloaked the property in an eerie light. Ben’s heart rate quickened. He was glad when Mr. Flynn didn’t sit.

“Son, you know you’re like family.” He huffed. “How can I get you to apply yourself in class? You’re not even trying anymore.”

“I’m busy.”

“Too busy not to fail?” To Ben’s ears, it felt like Mr. Flynn had screamed these words and he worried his family might overhear their conversation.

“I’m just not good at history. It’s stupid.” He knew what Mr. Flynn would say, but he couldn’t think his way out of this one. Not like Abi would have been able to. Then again, she wouldn’t even have been in this situation to begin with.

“You think history is stupid?”

“Yes.” He clenched his teeth. “Do you really think I’ll ever use history in life?”

Mr. Flynn stared at him, probably thinking about what a waste of space he was. “I want to offer my tutoring services. I believe you can learn this material and I’m willing to help you.”

Instead of dispelling the nerves bundled in his chest, this offer only wound them tighter. He had expected Mr. Flynn to be more combative, not compassionate. His chest tightened as his breathing became shallow. Mr. Flynn wasn’t the good guy here. He was the one that had called out Ben all those times for answers his teacher knew he didn’t have.

“Why? You seem to get a kick out of making a fool out of me in class.” He knew it wasn’t true the moment the words left his mouth, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“No, I don’t. I treat you just like I treat anyone else who’s failing my classes. Actually, scratch that.” Here it was. Mr. Flynn would finally admit he had it out for Ben. “I haven’t offered my tutoring services to them like I’m offering them to you.”

Another surprising comment. Ben didn’t know what else to do at this point. “And you’ll pass me if I do?”

“Absolutely not.” Ben opened his mouth to protest when Mr. Flynn continued. “If you pass your tests, then I’ll pass you. I’m not handing anything out to anyone. Just because the other teachers give you and your other friends a freebie doesn’t mean you should expect that kind of treatment from everyone. Once you graduate, you’re going to realize the rest of the world doesn’t work like that.”

Ben knew that. He knew these were his golden years, the only time when he’d be able to cut corners. He would be graduating in a year and while all of his friends were celebrating, he dreaded each day that drew him closer to that stage. He didn’t want the responsibility and he couldn’t tell anyone it scared the shit out of him. Mr. Flynn stood quietly, waiting for Ben’s answer.

Shifting from one foot to another, Ben couldn’t hold Mr. Flynn’s gaze anymore. “What will I have to do?”

The tension in Mr. Flynn’s body dissipated. He knew he had won. “Study time. I’ll help you with anything you’re unsure about and help you prepare for the tests.”

Ben wanted so badly to tell him how prepared he would be if he just handed the answers to him. But that would be a typical thing for Ben to say. Maybe this was his chance to prove himself. To be better.

“When do we start?”

“Tomorrow.” Mr. Flynn held out his hand. Ben stared at it, wondering what he had signed up for, before taking it.

They returned to the living room with everyone else and Ben spent the rest of the evening on the couch with his phone out, listening in on Mr. Flynn and his dad. It surprised Ben that Mr. Flynn hadn’t told his dad about the tutoring sessions or the grades. Had Mr. Flynn just blackmailed him?

Once everyone had left, Ben passed Abi and Cora to go upstairs, both of them whispering suspiciously to one another. His door clicked quietly behind him and he flipped the fan on, collapsing in his bed. His body ached from the day—his all day panic had taken its toll. He wondered what he would tell Mike the next day when he stayed later than usual. He would have to slip away when the school bell rang. But how long would he have to keep that up?

His eyelids grew heavy and his subconscious drifted quickly into a dream. Floating atop a deep sea of crimson, something dark circled him below the surface. He treaded water, splashing at the dark object each time it drew near. His limbs were growing heavy. The dark thing drew nearer, brushing against his leg. Icy cold shot through his body like an electric shock.

Ben was sitting up before he realized he was awake, cold and drenched with sweat. He pulled back the blanket and looked at his leg, expecting to see a burn mark. But there was nothing. He brushed his hand over his leg, positive he could still feel the ice in his veins.

Was this how it had started with his mother?