“Hey Jillian, wait up!” I yelled, running down the path after the disappearing yellow raincoat. It vanished into the trees ahead and I slowed to a stop halfway there, already winded. Behind me, I could hear Jillian’s mother giggling.

“36 and already an old man, I see,” she said, jostling the toddler in her arms. “How are you going to keep up with her when she’s staying out all night partying with her friends?”

“By locking her in her bedroom until she’s 25, of course,” I said, panting a little. Ruby just laughed more.

“She’s nearly 8 now, you don’t need to watch her every moment of the day.” She was right of course, but that was my little girl, running off into the forest. If I wasn’t there to keep her safe, who would be? I knew the park was safe, but you never know where the monsters hide.

Ruby pushed Josh into my arms, quickly bundling her deep red hair into a messy bun at the back of her head. “Relax, Ben. The forest is safe, we’re spending some time together, the office will run smoothly without you. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

And as Josh pushed his grubby fingers into my hair, I could feel the tension melting out of me. Ruby was right, this was exactly what I wanted.

The alarm clock buzzed loudly at me, an unhappy noise that jerked my dreams away from me. I scrabbled for the sleep button while desperately trying to cling to the dream, but it was too late. I was awake, and it was exam day.

The bathroom floor was cold under my bare toes. I stood there with a mouthful of toothpaste trying to recall the peaceful serenity of the dream. There was something about a little girl and monsters in the forest, but that hardly felt right. The harder I reached, the more reality sunk in. Today was exam day, and I barely remembered the first thing about Economics, let alone the sunk cost fallacy we’d spent the last month on.

I sat down heavily at the kitchen table while the coffee burbled, pouring over the glossy textbook that’d sat at my desk all year. Rhia came down the stairs yawning a few minutes later.

“Ready for your exam today?” she asked, heading to the fridge blurry-eyed. I gave her a dirty look, lifting up the textbook. She at least had the sense to act ashamed. “Ouch. Sorry Ben.”

I grunted as she busied herself behind me. “I thought you were going to study last night.”

“I was,” I muttered. “Then Judy called again.”

“That bitch! Doesn’t she have better things to do with her life?”

I could hear the toaster go down behind me, making me reread my sentence again. “Apparently she thinks I stole her favourite pair of yoga pants or something. Wants me to return them.”

“And what would you do with her yoga pants, exactly? Wear them to school so everyone knows you’re booty-licious?”

I snorted. “No no, I’d give them to that bimbo I’m clearly cheating with.” Rhia’s butter knife went scrap-scrap over a slice of toast behind me. I reread the sentence about sunk cost fallacy again.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll do fine on your exam today,” Rhia said, sliding a plate under my nose. Two slices of toast covered in Nutella stared up at me. “I’ll see you tonight, I need to go review Bio myself.”

I ate the toast gratefully, watching Rhia pulled her deep red hair into a bun as she walked back up the stairs.

Cross-posted from /r/WritingPrompts on Reddit