“This calls for celebration.” Their dad stood up, his chair scooting loudly across the floor. He reached into the top of the cabinet and set delicately stemmed shot glasses on the counter.
“Whoa, I don’t think I’m okay with this.” Mr. Flynn’s voice was laced with humor and he winked at Abi.
Each shot glass got a splash of purple liqueur, except for one, which Dad filled with juice. He handed them out with a wide smile, giving the juice-filled glass to their mom.
“To Abi,” his dad said. “The best writer I know.”
Everyone raised their glass, and Ben held his just a few inches higher. It had been a while since they had toasted to anything, and Ben knew how much Abi had wanted this.
“To Abi.” Glasses clinked loudly together, Cora finishing hers first. Ben gave Abi a half-smile before drinking his. She didn’t see it.
“So, which piece was it?”
Abi didn’t spare a second telling Mr. Flynn all about it.
Their dad and Cora jumped in, their questions coming in rapid fire.
“How much money are you going to make?”
“Now that you’re a professional, when are you getting that novel published?”
They hung on every word Abi said as she explained her plans after the magazine was published. No one else was in a rush to leave, and he nudged his food around on his plate.
Mom excused herself to go to the restroom, holding her posture straighter than she ever did when Mr. Flynn wasn’t there.
Ben slid his plate away and waited for dinner to be over.
When she had gone, Mr. Flynn lowered his voice to Dad. Abi and Cora were talking loudly on the other end of the table, so Ben had to focus to hear.
“How’s she been?”
Dad sighed. “You know. A lot of the same.”
“Well, I appreciate you having me over for dinner.”
Ben’s dad reached out and briefly grabbed Mr. Flynn’s shoulder. “You know how much of a help it is, you coming. She needs these visits to feel normal again.” He glanced up, almost involuntarily, at Ben and Abi before continuing. “I think we all do.”
“I can tell you one thing.” Mr. Flynn downed the small amount of wine still in his glass. “I’ll never turn down the opportunity to eat your cooking.”
They laughed, and when his mom came back, she joined in too. She didn’t even ask what they were so amused about though she laughed louder than they did. No one seemed to think this was odd. His dad just appeared to be happy she wasn’t locked in her studio, mumbling strange words.
Ben took a deep breath and tried to forget the test. He knew it was ruining his evening, but he still wanted to get away. Everything was irritating him, and he wanted the dinner to end as fast as possible.
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 had moved on to drinking 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 made Ben think they were trying to be sneaky. He would ordinarily tease her for something like that or devise a way to snatch the laptop away to see what they were up to. But he’d been too tired for that.
Ben led the way down the hall and out onto the enclosed patio. It was heated like the rest of the house, but cool air emanated 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.”
“Too busy not to fail?”
To Ben’s ears, it seemed as if 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?”