He was lost for a moment before the world snapped back into focus around him. Mike was looking at him expectantly.
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“I said,” Mike dragged out the last word for emphasis, “check it out.” He nodded at something behind him, and Ben turned to look. It was a junior in the shortest shorts he’d ever seen anyone at their school get away with wearing.
Ben couldn’t care less. He put his hand on the locker door and, after a few moments, built up the courage to fling it open again. Nothing.
“She’s going to be mine by the end of the month, mark my words.”
Mike did this after every relationship he was in had run its course. Hell, he did it while the relationship was still running its course.
“You play like you’re going to get lucky with every girl in this school,” Ben said, grabbing a notebook out from under a heap of forgotten gym clothes and slamming his locker shut again.
“But you’re just a sucker for drama.”
“Dude, what’s eating you?” Mike stood still. The oddity of seeing him not fidget broke Ben’s urge to fling his locker door open one last time.
He struggled. Telling Mike what had just gone down was not an option. Mike stared at him, waiting.
“Thinking about that test,” he blurted. And if he was being honest, the test really had upset him. Maybe that was why he’d had that …
He stopped himself—he wasn’t going to think like that. It was a momentary lapse. That was all.
Wasn’t it? Could the stress of taking a test do something like that to someone?
Was this his breaking point? His dad was already struggling to care for his mom. What if Ben needed caring for as well? An image of his mom spaced-out at the kitchen table that morning gripped him, and he shook it off.
“Oh yeah?” Mike was leaning against his locker, watching as students around them rushed to class.
“Dude, why didn’t you tell me you were going to study?” Ben’s left palm felt moist against the locker door. He dropped it to his side.
“I did tell you. When you were too busy texting Miss Thang yesterday after school.”
“What the hell, man? Maybe next time you could give me a little more notice? I’m the only one that failed that thing in there.” Ben’s voice rose but no one really took notice. The noise of the hallway drowned him out.
“The hell you mean you failed that test?” Mike squared up with him. “You had plenty written down. Even for the last question.”
“Yeah, hockey plays.” He spoke through clenched teeth, hands tightening into fists.
A look of confusion crossed over Mike’s face, then he chuckled.
The chuckle built into full-on laughter. “Are you serious?”
Ben wasn’t about to stand there and be laughed at. “Fuck you.”
He turned and left, a path clearing in front of him quickly. It was lunchtime and he should have been heading toward the cafeteria, but Ben couldn’t think about eating right then.
They had always made fun of the people that studied so hard, his sister included. And now Mike was studying, too? There was no way that Mike had actually mentioned he’d been studying.
Ben stomped into the gym and climbed the bleachers to sit where a group of hockey players and their girlfriends had gathered. He pretended to listen to them, his mind wandering back to what had happened at his locker, and the test before that. If his dad found out about either, Ben was in serious trouble.