Ben’s luck was getting better and better. The gut-wrenching despair from earlier in the day had only gotten worse. Not only had he failed Mr. Flynn’s test, 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. They were so close that Ben and Abi called him Uncle Ravi until several years ago when Ben started his freshman year. The adults unanimously considered it unprofessional, and Ben and Abi had to make a conscious effort to stop calling him that.
In the beginning, Ben thought he would have an easier time slacking off in class and getting away with it. 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.
“Ben! Help me set the table,” his dad bellowed up the stairs.
Ben had been waiting until the last second to head downstairs. Which had come, apparently.
The room tilted as he rose from his chair, and he stumbled, his big toe connecting with a solid hockey bag on the floor. He stumbled over the bag before catching himself, fighting down a string of curse words. The pain built to a searing peak and Ben hissed.
He shoved his hockey gear aside and trampled on the clothes littering the floor.
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 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 aroma of spiced Italian food reached him as he descended the stairs. His stomach growled, and he remembered he had skipped lunch.
Neither girl glanced up from Abi’s laptop as he passed through the living room. His dad scraped some chopped tomatoes into a large bowl of salad before wiping his hands on his apron. Ben had told him a hundred times how ridiculous it was that he wore one while cooking, but the apron stayed no matter what he said.
“Why can’t Abi set the table?” Ben grumbled as he opened the kitchen cabinets. White plastic dishware lined the shelves, a change they’d made years ago after his mom kept accidentally breaking them. He grabbed six plates.
“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 reprimand wasn’t enough to calm Ben down, but he’d be better off not making matters worse. He rolled his eyes and set a stack of plates on the table in the dining room, a space that only ever got used for dinners like this one.
Just as he had set the last fork 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 blue dress that accentuated the blue in her pale eyes and, 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 brought 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. 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. 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.