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The Failing Hours

By:Sara Ney


He isn’t hard to spot.

Big, solid, and imposing, Ezekiel Daniels might be sharing a library table with his friends, but his presence overwhelms the entire space like I imagine a tank in a driveway full of minivans would. Too big and out of place.

My attention is drawn straight to him.

I glance down at the tutoring schedule in my hand, cringing at the name printed in bold letters.

Ezekiel Daniels

Library, Student Services Center


The pit in my stomach clenches tighter and I glance at the guy again; that has to be him. It’s obvious by the way he’s impatiently staring around the room that he’s waiting for someone. As if somehow sensing my scrutiny, the devil himself looks up, his moody, broody, menacing gaze scanning the perimeter of the room.



His regard flickers over me, staring, expression completely unreadable. Void of any emotion, really, as he takes my full measure behind the library’s circulation desk, the bookshelves offering me no shelter from his critical perusal.

He’s so handsome I almost forget to breathe.

Black hair disheveled. Black brows drawn into angry slashes above remarkably light eyes, he’s in desperate need of a shave.

And a tutor.

He slides a sheet of paper off the table and pinches it between two titan fingers; I know what’s on it because it’s identical to the one I’m holding. They should, but my feet don’t propel me toward him to introduce myself, even though I know he’s here for a tutoring session.

With me.

Nerves root me to the spot.

I watch as Ezekiel Daniels gestures wildly to his friends with dark furrowed brows, his lips forming angry words I cannot hear from here. One of his friends laughs, another shakes his head and leans back in his chair, bulky tattooed arms crossed, amused. The entire group has a palpable restlessness and air of boredom I wonder about, and horrified, I watch Ezekiel make a crude motion with his hands, miming a blow job with his mouth.

The entire table erupts into raucous laugher. Now they’re so loud I can make out everything they’re saying, and I strain, pretending to work while I listen. Watch when the friend hefts his big body out of that small chair and saunters across the room.

“What’s your tutors name?” I hear the friend ask.


“Aww, how pretty.”

So begins his leisurely shuffle across the library, weaving through the intricate labyrinth of tables, crosshairs set on a girl wearing a conservative black cardigan, pearls, and black glasses perched atop her brown, shiny hair.

She’s studying, head bent, nose buried in a text book. I secretly applaud when moments later, she rebuffs him, sending him stalking back to his friends.

The behemoth with the tattooed arms tosses the paper at Ezekiel Daniels with a smirk, plopping down in stiff, desk chair.

“That’s not her?” Ezekiel’s booming voice carries over.

“Nope.” His friend flips open a text book.

The unfeeling glower intensifies, and I watch a pair of full lips form another sentence, spouting my name, over and over, the low timber of his furious voice resonating across the cavernous room.

He does another scan of the library.

“It says her name is Violet. Where the fuck is she?”

He lifts himself to a stand. Catches my eye across the room.

When he raises his black brows and the corner of his mouth arrogantly, I back up until my butt hits the table behind me.

Ezekiel Daniels starts his own slow saunter toward the circulation desk—toward me—dragging his feet lazily along the hardwood floors, his lazy gate a thing of beauty.

Demands attention.

And it works, because I can’t take my eyes off him.

Can’t look away, not until he’s finally standing in front of me, eyes blazing with ill humor. Cynicism.

“Is this where I find the tutor that was assigned to me?” he asks without preface, slapping his sheet of paper loudly on the counter with a smack. “I can’t find her.”

My eyes flicker down. See my name printed in bold, black letters.


His eyebrows quirk again when I stutter, pleased with himself. “Do I make you nervous?”


“You sure about that?”

I fold my hands in front of me, resting them on the smooth wood, and ignore his question to ask one of my own, using my most authoritative tone.

“I-Is there something I-I can help you with?”

He scrutinizes me a few uncomfortable moments, unfriendly gaze sweeping up and down my torso before his beautifully sculpted lips part. “Is there a Violet available?”

Am I?

Am I available to this guy?

This is it, the moment I must make up my mind. Am I going to subject myself to him for the sake of my job? Let him chip away at my self-respect for what little money tutoring him will bring me? Am I going to force myself to sit the countless hours it may take to help him pass a class?

It’s true that I need this job—but I don’t know if I can bring myself to tutor Ezekiel Daniels.

Anyone can tell by looking at him that he isn’t nice.

“Well?” he demands, pushing the sheet toward me. “Is she available?”

I raise my eyes, staring the devil in the eye.

“No. She’s not.”


“Are you listening to me, Mr. Daniels?”

I jerk my head toward the sound of my coach’s voice, already aggravated to the point of distraction because he’s determined to waste my time. His office is small, but so is he, and the cinderblock walls have faded to a dull blue, casting an eerie pallor over his skin.

The veins in Coach’s neck strain as he fights to gain control of the impromptu meeting he’s called me into. I’m not in the mood to listen.

With nothing to add, I keep my damn mouth shut, instead giving a terse nod.

“I said, are you listening to me, son?”

I want to remind him that I’m not his son—not even close. My own father doesn’t even call me son.

Not that I’d want him to.

Jaw locked, teeth clenched. “Yes, sir.”

“Now, I don’t know where that chip on your shoulder comes from, and I’m not going to pretend to give a crap about what goes on when you leave here, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and watch one of my boys self-destruct in my gym.” His weathered skin stretches along with the grimly set line of his mouth.

He continues. “You think you’re the first prick to come through this program thinking his shit don’t stink? You’re not, but you are the first prick to come with an attitude I can’t seem to quit. You’re also one sarcastic wisecrack away from getting a fist slammed through your pretty face. Even your own teammates don’t like you. I can’t have discord on my team.”

My jaw ticks when I clench it, but having nothing to say in defense, I clamp my mouth shut.

He rankles on.

“What’s it going to take to get through to you, Mr. Daniels?”

Nothing. You’ve got nothing that will fucking get through to me, old man.

He tips back in his old wooden desk chair and studies me, fingers clasped into a steeple. Balancing on the legs, Coach taps his chin with the tips.

It’s on the verge of my tongue to tell him if he wants to get through to me, he can stop calling me Mister Daniels. Second, he can cut the bullshit and tell me the reason he pulled me into his office after practice.

After a long stretch of silence, he leans forward, the springs on his chair emitting a loud, scraping metallic sound, his arms coming to rest on the desktop. His hands glide over a sheaf of paper and he plucks one off the top.

“Tell ya what we’re going to do.” He pushes the paper toward me across the desk. “The director of Big Brothers Mentorship Program owes me a favor. You have any experience with kids, Daniels?”

I shake my head. “No.”

“Do you know what Big Brothers is?”

“No, but I’m sure you’re about to enlighten me,” I retort, unable to stop myself. Crossing my arms, I adopt a defensive pose most people find intimidating.

Not Coach.

“Allow me to educate you, Mr. Daniels. It’s a program designed to match a youngster with an older volunteer—such as yourself—that acts as a mentor. Hang out with the kid. Show him he’s not alone. Be someone dependable that isn’t going to bail. Typically, they’re good kids from single-parent households, but not always. Sometimes the kids are left alone, deadbeat dads, that sort of thing. Sometimes their parents just don’t care and they’re left to fend for themselves. Know what that’s like that, son?”

Yes. “No.”

The sadist drones on, shuffling the stack on his desk. “There’s an interview process I think you’d fail with flying colors, so we’re cutting through the red tape and pulling some strings. You know why? Because you have potential to be successful and you’re pissing it away by being a callous little asshole.”

His chair creeks in the cellblock of an office. “Maybe what you need is to give a shit about someone other than yourself for a change. Maybe what you need is to meet a kid whose life is shittier than yours. Your pity party is over.”

“I don’t have time to volunteer, Coach,” I grit out.

Coach grins up at me from his desk, the overhead lights reflecting off his thick glasses. “Too goddamn bad then, ain’t it? You either take the volunteer hours, or you’re off the team. I don’t need a smoking gun on my hands. Trust me, we’d find a way to carry on without you.”