When Ben was seven, he met the boy next door, the boy who would become his best friend. When Ben was seventeen, he knew he was in love with the boy next door. It was the year of their confession, their first kiss, and the year Ben broke Rory’s heart. Now, eight years later, Ben is given another chance, a chance to start over. Rory is the the newest teacher at the school where Ben works. His Rory. Ben won’t make the same mistake twice.
This is a moderately entertaining story about second chances as a grown up Ben, who teaches art and coaches soccer at the same high school he himself attended, gets to face his demons. During his last year in school, Ben made varsity and the popularity and the pride went to his head. He and Rory had been best friends forever, but when he heard the way the soccer team talked about Rory — the slurs, the disdainful way they mocked and ridiculed him — he didn’t say anything. Ben started ignoring Rory’s calls, avoiding him in and out of school. He ghosted him and never looked back. At least, not until Rory was long gone.
With Rory back, Ben has a chance to make up for his mistakes, to apologize, to use his words, to try to be the friend he wasn’t, and to try to get back his first love. Unfortunately, Ben never really manages to say he’s sorry. Or to apologize. Rory, still hurt from the betrayal of his best friend — a friend who didn’t like it when there were other people vying for Rory’s attention, who preferred it being just the two of them — doesn’t really want to be Ben’s friend anymore. But as the weeks pass, Rory starts to give in.
The smiles, the friendly conversation, the fact that he’ll let Ben be in the same room without walking away, and the bowling group date with two other teachers give Ben hope that he can start to get back into Rory’s good graces. But when Rory says no, when he draws a line and says this far and no farther, Ben leans into the boundary and keeps leaning, keeps pushing, taking advantage of Rory’s natural good nature and desire to not cause a scene. It doesn’t help that their kiss — the one Ben pushed on Rory — comes when they’re drunk.
Ben is still unsettlingly possessive, as he always has been. When Rory mentions he has a boyfriend, Ben is suddenly more determined to get Rory back. It doesn’t matter that Rory only wants to be friends, or that Rory is seeing someone — and my doesn’t Ben try to make Rory feel guilty for the fact that Ben forced a kiss Rory while Rory was dating Keith (surely, because Rory kissed him back, it’s all okay); it only seems to matter what Ben wants.
Rory had a boyfriend. Or at least, someone he was seeing. Ben knew he was fighting an uphill battle even if the coast was free and clear. With some guy standing in his way, it was almost impossible.[…]
There was no way in hell he could hold it together while he watched some other guy touch Rory. He’d never been very rational where that was concerned, and it seemed like the distance of years hadn’t changed a thing.[…]
But not showing up meant not seeing his competition and not reminding Rory that he was still there. He had to go.
There’s also more drinking for the first hookup, as Rory — angry and upset and drunk, and Ben never caring why he’s angry, why he’s upset, or what happened — ends up at Ben’s house and the two of them go right for the bedroom. When Rory decides in the morning that he’s fine with being friends with benefits, implying heavily that he’ll take whatever part of Ben he can get, Ben is all delighted. Until Rory can’t come over for dinner one night and Ben’s personality takes a complete shift. Ben goes from pushy and possessive to something twisted and unhappy, and his thoughts go from how amazing Rory is and how much he can’t not smell him or touch him, to thinking about how he lets himself be fucked by Rory even when he’s unhappy and can’t even stand the sex or the touching or sleeping in the same bed. Eventually he does what he did before and ghosts Rory.
The writing is good and the pacing is good, but I really didn’t care for Ben. The fact that, not once, does he ever say he’s sorry for what he did. Ever. He has excuses about how he feels, but he never asks Rory about his feelings. He doesn’t want to talk about Rory, he just wants Rory. And the despair and unhappiness in the final quarter of the book felt more like Ben was playing the martyr. I would be interested in more books by this author, but this one is a solid no thank you from me.