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 ached and his breathing became shallow. Mr. Flynn wasn’t the good guy here. He was the one that had called on Ben all those times for answers he knew Ben didn’t have.
“Why? You seem to get a kick out of making a fool out of me in class.” He knew it was a petty comment 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 have 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 some 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 realized these were his golden years, the only time 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 the other, Ben couldn’t hold Mr. Flynn’s gaze anymore. “What will I have to do?”
The tension in Mr. Flynn’s body dissolved. 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 shaking 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 he done that on purpose so Ben would more readily agree to tutoring?
It didn’t take long for Mr. Flynn to jump into another debate with his mom and dad, the former not really offering up much conversation. Ben seized his chance and snuck away to his room. He 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 onto his bed. His body ached from his all-day panic. 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. He was floating atop a deep sea of crimson, something dark circling him below the surface. He treaded water, splashing at the shadowy object each time it drifted closer. His limbs grew 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 threw the blanket aside and checked his leg, expecting to see a burn mark. But there was nothing. He brushed his hand over his calf, positive he could still feel the ice in his veins.
Was this how it had started with his mother?