For Your Own Good

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Trade Paperback

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 26, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.


“Witty and macabre.”–Caroline Kepnes

“Slick and chilling.”–Megan Miranda

“A perfect summer book.”–NPR

USA Today
bestselling author Samantha Downing is back with her latest sneaky thriller set at a prestigious private school–complete with interfering parents, overeager students, and one teacher who just wants to teach them all a lesson…

Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the elite Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.
He says his wife couldn’t be more proud–though no one has seen her in a while.
Teddy really can’t be bothered with a few mysterious deaths on campus that are looking more and more like murder, or with the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is pushing these kids to their full academic potential.  
All he wants is for his colleagues–and the endlessly meddlesome parents–to stay out of his way. If not, well, they’ll get what they deserve.
It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence comes at such a high cost.





ENTITLEMENT HAS A particular stench. Pungent, bitter. Almost brutal.

Teddy smells it coming.

The stench blows in the door with James Ward. It oozes out of his pores, infecting his suit, his polished shoes, his ridiculously white teeth.

"I apologize for being late," James says, offering his hand.

"It's fine," Teddy says. "Not all of us can be punctual."

The smile on James's face disappears. "Sometimes, it can't be helped."

"Of course."

James sits at one of the student desks. Normally, Teddy would sit right next to a parent, but this time he sits at his own desk in the front of the class. His chair is angled slightly, giving James a clear view of the award hanging on the wall. Teddy's Teacher of the Year plaque came in last week.

"You said you wanted to talk about Zach," Teddy says.

"I want to discuss his midterm paper."

Zach's paper sits on Teddy's desk—"Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby: Was She Worth It?"—along with Teddy's rubric assessment. He glances up at James, whose expression doesn't change. "An interesting topic."

"You gave him a B-plus."

"Yes, I did."

James smiles just enough. "Teddy." Not Mr. Crutcher, as everyone else calls him, and not Theodore. Just Teddy, like they are friends. "You know how important junior year grades are for college."

"I do."

"Zach is a straight-A student."

"I understand that."

"I've read his paper," James says, leaning back a little in his chair. Settling in for the long argument. "I thought it was well written, and it showed a great deal of creativity. Zach worked very hard to come up with a topic that hadn't been done before. He really wanted a different perspective on a book that's been written about ad infinitum."

Ad infinitum. The words hang in the air, swinging like a pendulum.

"All true," Teddy says.

"But you still gave him a B-plus."

"Zach wrote a good paper, and good papers get a B. Exceptional papers get an A." Teddy picks up the rubric and holds it out toward James. "You can see the breakdown for yourself. Grammar, structure, mechanics . . . it's all here."

James has to get up to retrieve the paper, which makes Teddy smile inside. He folds his hands and watches.

As James starts to read, his phone buzzes. He takes it out and holds up a finger, telling Teddy to wait, then gets up and walks out of the classroom to take the call.

Teddy is left alone to think about his time, which is being wasted.

James asked for this meeting. James specified that it had to be after hours, in the evening. This is what Teddy has to deal with from parents, and he deals with it ad infinitum.

He stares at his own phone, counting the minutes as they pass. Wondering what James would do if he just got up, walked right past him, and left.

It's unfortunate that he can't.

If Teddy walks out, James will call the headmaster and complain. The headmaster will then call Teddy and remind him that parents pay the bills, including his own paycheck. Belmont isn't a public school.

Not that he would get fired. Just six months ago, he was named Teacher of the Year, for God's sake. But it would be a headache, and he doesn't need that. Not now.

So he stays, counting the minutes. Staring at the walls.

The room is orderly. Sparse. Teddy's desk is clear of everything except Zach's paper, a pen, and a laptop. No inspirational posters on the wall, no calendars. Nothing but Teddy's recent award.

Belmont Academy is an old school, with dark paneling, solid doors, and the original wood floors. The only modern addition is the stack of cubbyholes near the door. That's where students have to leave their phones during class, an idea Teddy fought for until the board approved it. Now, the other teachers thank him for it.

Before the cubbies were installed, kids used their phone throughout class. Once, several years ago, Teddy broke a student's phone. That was an expensive lesson.

Five minutes have passed since James walked out. Teddy starts to pick at his cuticles. It's a habit he developed back in high school, though over the years he got rid of it. Last summer, he started doing it again. He hates himself for it but can't seem to stop.

Time continues to pass.

If Teddy had a dollar for every minute he was kept waiting by James and every other parent, he wouldn't be teaching. He wouldn't have to do anything at all.

Eleven minutes go by before James walks back into the room.

"I apologize. I was waiting for that call."

"It's fine," Teddy says. "Some people just can't disconnect."

"Sometimes, it's not possible."

"Of course."

James takes his seat at the desk and says, "Let me just ask you straight out. Is there anything we can do about Zach's paper?"

"When you say do, Mr. Ward, are you asking me if I'll change his grade?"

"Well, I thought it was an A paper. A-minus, maybe, but still an A."

"I understand that. And I understand your concern for Zach and his future," Teddy says. "However, can you imagine what would happen if I changed his grade? Can you appreciate how unfair that would be, not only to the other students, but also to the school? If we start basing our grades on what parents think they should be, instead of teachers, how can we possibly know if we are doing our job? We couldn't possibly know if our students were learning the material and progressing with their education. And that, Mr. Ward, is the very foundation of Belmont." Teddy pauses, taking great joy at the dismayed look on James's face. Not so arrogant now. "So, no, I will not change your son's grade and threaten the integrity of this school."

The silence in the room is broken only by the clock. The minute hand jumps forward with a loud click.

James clears his throat. "I apologize. I didn't mean to suggest anything like that."

"Apology accepted."

But James isn't done yet. They never are.

"Perhaps there is some extra work Zach can do. Even if he has to read a second book and write another paper?"

Teddy thinks about this while staring down at his hands. The cuticle on his index finger already looks ragged, and it's only the middle of the term.

"Perhaps," he finally says. "Let me give it some thought."

"That's all I ask. I appreciate it. So does Zach."

Zach is a smug little bastard who has no appreciation for anything or anyone except himself. That's why he didn't get an A.

His paper was good. Damn good, in fact. If Zach were a better person, he would've received a better grade.


TEDDY'S OLD SAAB is the only car left in the parking lot. Everyone else has cleared out, including the sports teams and the other teachers. Tonight, he's the last one. He unlocks the door with his key—no electronic gizmos on this car—and sets his briefcase in the back seat.

"Mr. Crutcher?"

The voice makes Teddy jump. A second ago, the lot was empty, and now there's a woman standing behind him.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you," she says.

She is tall and curvy, with dark hair, cut at the chin, and plum-colored lips. She wears a simple blue dress, high heels, and what looks like an expensive handbag. He's seen enough of them to know.

"Yes?" Teddy says.

"I'm Pamela Ward. Zach's mother."

"Oh, hello." Teddy stands up a little straighter. "I don't think we've met before."

"No, we haven't." She steps forward to offer her hand, and Teddy gets a whiff of her. Gardenias.

"I'm afraid you missed your husband," he says, shaking her hand. "He left about twenty minutes ago."

"I know. He told me."

"Yes, we—"

"I'm sorry I missed the meeting. I just wanted to stop by and make sure everything has been taken care of." She looks him straight in the eye. No fear. Not of him or of being alone in a parking lot at night.

"Taken care of?" he says.

"That you'll do what's best for Zach." It's not a question.

"Absolutely. I always want the best for my students."

"Thank you. I appreciate that," she says. "Have a good evening."

"And you as well. It was a pleasure to meet you."

With a nod, she turns and walks away.

Now, he sees her car. It's across the lot. A black crossover, which almost disappears in the night. So does she.

Teddy gets into his car and watches in the rearview mirror as she drives away.

Before this evening, he had never met James or Pamela Ward. Unusual, considering Zach is a junior. Teddy makes a point of attending every orientation, parents' night, and fundraiser, as well as every sporting event. The big games, anyway. People know Teddy Crutcher, and most have also met his wife, Allison.

He was surprised when James emailed and said he wanted to meet. Teddy looked him up online and learned he worked in finance. Not surprising—half the Belmont parents work in finance. It made James a little less interesting, a little more pedestrian. A little more manageable.

Now, Teddy knows even more about James, and about his wife. Not that it matters. Not unless he can use it to his advantage.

FROM THE FRONT, Teddy's house looks like it could be abandoned. Broken slats on the fence, overgrown garden, sagging porch. He and his wife had bought it as a fixer-upper and started with the electricity, the plumbing, and the roof. Everything had cost more than expected and took longer than it was supposed to. He still isn't sure which one ran out first, the money or the desire, but they'd stopped renovating years ago.

The inside is a little better. The rooms were painted and the floors refinished before they moved in.

He almost calls out for his wife, Allison, but stops himself.

No reason to do that.

The good thing about having such a large house is having more than enough space for Teddy and his wife to have their own offices. Hers faces the back and was supposed to have a view of the garden and a pond. That never happened.

His office is in the front corner of the house. He had envisioned staring out at his lawn and a freshly painted fence around it. Instead, he keeps the drapes shut.

His inbox is filled with messages from students asking about assignments. They want extensions, clarifications, more explicit instructions. Always something. Students today can't just do as they're told. They always need more. Half of Teddy's job has become explaining things a second, third, or even fourth time.

Tonight, he ignores the emails and pours himself a tall glass of milk. He doesn't drink it often—dairy has always been an issue—but he likes it. This evening, it's a treat. Something to help him think about what to do with Zach.


UPSTAIRS IN HIS room, Zach Ward works on a history paper while chatting online. A text from his father interrupts him.

Come downstairs please.

He didn't even hear his dad drive up, much less enter the house. Zach types a message to his friend Lucas.

Gotta go. I'm being summoned downstairs.

Lucas replies with an exploding-bomb emoji.

Zach heads down, reminding himself that, no matter what happens, it's better to keep his mouth shut. Except when necessary. Whatever his parents have done is already over. No need to argue about it now.

"In here," Dad says, waving him into the living room. He's still in his work clothes, minus the suit jacket. Mom looks exactly the same as when she left this morning, minus the shoes.

Physically, Zach is a combination of both his parents. His thick hair, jawline, and dimples come from his dad. The eyes are his mom's, including the long lashes. The best of Mom and Dad. A genetic jackpot, and Zach knows it.

"Have a seat," Dad says.

Zach sits on the couch, while Mom and Dad sit in the chairs on either side of him. This makes him feel a little trapped.

"I met with your English teacher this evening," Dad says. "Your mother was stuck at work."

"Although I caught up with him afterward," she says, giving Dad a pointed look. "So we both talked to him."

"Mr. Crutcher is an interesting man," Dad says.

Zach says nothing. He's not taking that bait.

"We had a very good talk about your paper. He showed me his rubric assessment, and I brought up some points he may have missed. He agreed with most of what I said." Dad pauses, letting Mom pick up the story.

"My conversation with Mr. Crutcher wasn't very long, but he did seem amenable to rethinking his position on your paper," she says. "I think he understands that even teachers can be fallible."

Crutcher admitted he was wrong? Not likely. But Zach has no doubt his parents believe it.

"All in all, I think we were able to come to an agreement on your paper," Dad says. "While he's unwilling to change your grade at this point, given that you already have the paper back, he is willing to give you an additional assignment. Extra credit, basically. That way, your grade can be raised from a B-plus to an A-minus without causing a rift with the other students."

In other words, Crutcher said no. Not surprising to Zach, given how much his English teacher hates him. It's so weird, because teachers always like him. He's never had a problem until Crutcher.

He's also never had a B—plus or otherwise.

"We think this is the best possible outcome," Mom says. "Your GPA will remain intact, all with nothing out of place happening."

Zach nods, trying not to smile at how she phrases it. They would've loved nothing more than to convince Crutcher to change the grade. They couldn't—and won't admit it.

Like Dad says: Failure can be an illusion.

That's just one of his many sayings, which he calls Ward-isms. Zach's been hearing them all his life. Most are stupid.

Both his parents are looking at him, and Zach realizes they're waiting for him to speak.

"Thank you," he says.

"You're welcome," Mom says. "You know we're always willing to help."

Of course they are. Anything to keep him on track to the Ivy League. This time, however, he didn't want their help. He didn't want them talking to Crutcher, didn't want them asking to change his grade. The B-plus wasn't that big of a deal—not on a single paper. It wasn't his semester grade or anything.

No, they'd said. We can fix this.

But their idea of fixing had resulted in more work for him, not them. And Crutcher probably hates him more than he did before.


"Did Mr. Crutcher say what the extra assignment is?" Zach asks.

"He did not," Dad says. "He's going to mull it over, and I assume he'll let you know directly."

"If he doesn't, let us know," Mom says.

Zach nods. Sure he will.

"And let's review that assignment together before you turn it in," Dad says.

Another nod. That'll never happen.

Dad's phone buzzes. He takes it out of his pocket and nods to Mom, then walks out of the living room.

"Have you eaten?" Mom says.

It's eight o'clock at night—of course Zach has eaten. Alone, as he does most nights. "Yes," he says.

"Good." She smiles, patting Zach on the knee. "I guess that's it for now. Keep us updated about Mr. Crutcher."

"I will."

Zach walks out of the living room, passing by his father in the hall. Dad is yelling at somebody about something Zach doesn't care about. He doesn't bother eavesdropping anymore. Dad's conversations got boring a while ago.

Back upstairs, he checks online for Lucas. Gone. He looks for a couple of other people but can't find anyone, so he returns to the history paper he was writing. It's hard to concentrate, though. His mind keeps wandering to that extra assignment and how much time Crutcher will give him to get it done.

Even though it's early, fatigue sets in quickly. Between Crutcher and his parents, Zach feels like he's been batted around like a pinball in their game.

He picks up his phone and texts his friend Courtney.

My parents suck.

The reply comes a minute later: Not exactly breaking news.

I wish they'd stayed out of it, Zach says.

Your teenage angst does not make you a unique snowflake.

Courtney is watching old episodes of Dawson's Creek again. She likes to do that when she's high.

Zach doesn't bother answering her. If he continued the conversation, Courtney might refer to his parents as "parental units" and Zach might throw his phone out the window.

He lies down on his bed and stares up at the modern, asymmetrical light fixture Mom chose for his room. He hates it. He also hates the furniture, the carpet, and the walls, which are all in varying shades of grey. Every time he walks into his room, it's like stepping into a gloomy cloud.

Less than two years. Twenty-two months to be exact, and then he'll be out of Belmont, out of this house, and away at college. Doesn't even matter where at this point.

Shut up and smile.

Not one of his dad's sayings. It's a Belmont saying, one all the kids know. It's how they survive.


UP UNTIL YESTERDAY, Teddy had thought of Zach as just a little prick who'd grumbled—loudly—about giving up his phone during class. He always sat in the center of the room with a smirk on his face, waiting for an opportunity to crack a joke, make a snide comment, or do anything else that would get attention.

Now that Teddy has met his parents, Zach seems even worse. Daddy will protect him, or so he thinks.

"We're going to do something different," Teddy says to the class. That gets their attention. "I've decided to let you choose our next book."

With a great flourish, he raises the pull-down screen that covers the chalkboard. Unlike most teachers, Teddy won't give up either one. He doesn't use smartboards.

Two book titles are written on the board. Teddy gives them a moment to read. Some write the titles down; others just stare. Confused, perhaps, at being given a choice.

"Any immediate thoughts?" Teddy says.

Three students raise their hands. The same three students who always raise their hands. Teddy points to the least offensive one.

"Connor," he says. "Which one do you prefer?"

"Moby Dick."

That makes a few of them smile. Even without their phones, they know Moby Dick has to be shorter and easier to read than the second book.

They're right.

Two students still have their hands up, but Teddy doesn't look at them. He surveys the room, landing on the back row of the class. The Invisibles. That's what he calls the students who try to disappear.

"Katherine," he says.

Her head snaps up. She had been staring at her desk.

"Care to offer an opinion?"

She looks at the board, perhaps for the first time. Katherine is a petite girl with blond hair and skin so pale she almost disappears.

"Um," she says.


"Sorry. I mean, no. I don't have an opinion."

She never does. Teddy stares at her until she looks away.

Finally, he zeroes in on Zach, who is looking at a girl sitting diagonally from him. He's staring at her legs.

"Zach," Teddy says. "Any thoughts on the books?"

Zach glances up, not looking a bit surprised. He smiles as he speaks. "I'm sure they're both great books."

Somewhere, a girl giggles.

"But if I have to pick one," Zach says, "I think Moby Dick is the best choice. I think it's the most relevant, given how the environment is so important. Especially the oceans."

A few people in the class applaud. Others roll their eyes.

Most students don't want to read Bleak House by Charles Dickens, and for good reason. It's one hundred and fifty thousand words longer than Moby Dick.

"Thank you, Zach. Anyone else?"

No one raises a hand.

Perfect. Just as Teddy had planned.

THE TEACHERS' LOUNGE is up on the second floor, away from most of the classrooms, and it's more comfortable than most. Plush seating, real dishes and cups, occasional free snacks, and lots of coffee. Teddy goes up there during the breaks, though it's not for company. The lounge is the only place to get his favorite coffee blend: Prime Bold.

During the afternoon break, the room is busy. A small line forms in front of the single-cup coffee makers. The fact that they need more than two is an ongoing conversation topic.

Teddy nods and smiles at Frank, an ex–college football player who now teaches math. He's very young and very enthusiastic about his work, his coffee, and his religion. He's already been warned once not to discuss his faith at school.

"I've tried them all," Frank says, pointing to the shelf of coffee pods. "And I keep coming back to the Ethiopian Roast. It's not too strong but not weak, you know?"

"I do," Teddy says.

"And it's good to support the Ethiopians. We always have to help those less fortunate."

A loud voice cuts through all the chatter.

"Are we seriously out of Gold Roast?"

The voice belongs to a science teacher, a middle-aged woman named Mindy. She's high-strung—with or without coffee.

"We can't be out," she says, opening all the cabinets. Another teacher joins in to help her look.

Teddy moves to one of the machines and starts making his Prime Bold.

On Sale
Apr 26, 2022
Page Count
400 pages