Every sound in the classroom crashed through 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 scribble in his name, nearly misspelling it. How stupid would Mr. Flynn think he was if he couldn’t even get his name right?
He looked at the first question again, the letters jumbling together.
What three key events led to the Civil War?
Slavery? That was a thing, though, not an event. Ben didn’t have any memory of ever learning about this topic. The more he focused on it, the more he was convinced this was just a sick joke.
No one knew these answers. Right? He glanced around. Everyone else seemed to be in a writing flurry. Shit. Why did he always back himself into these corners?
A low hum caught his attention, but he couldn’t place where it had come from.
Probably someone’s phone.
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 of 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.
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 from being the lowest on the IQ totem pole out of anyone around him. 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.
The next question took longer for his brain to sort out.
Who was president during the start of the Civil War, and what specific piece of advice did his staff give him?
Ben’s stomach ached 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 in their papers, and the back of his neck burned at the thought they would see his empty page as they passed.
He had to write something. Everyone would know just how stupid he was and people would whisper and the news would spread like wildfire. “Ben didn’t write a single thing on Mr. Flynn’s test today.”
The humming came back again, louder this time. No one else seemed to notice it. He flexed his jaw, trying to pop his ears, but the humming peaked, making him cringe.
His heart thrummed, pulsing at his neck.
They overlapped one another in a surge, too many voices to understand. He pressed his shaking hands to his ears.
It stopped. The classroom noises were tame in comparison. No one turned their head or looked around to identify the noise. Everyone was still writing, oblivious.