Today, directly after school, I drove to Donner Park for my meeting with Luke. The venue, the Donner Outdoor Auditorium, was picked by him for reasons he refused to explain. But it was a great choice, because today was a real halcyon day: bright yellow sun and a delicate breeze that tickled the leaves, the birds adding to the soft chorus with chirps and flutters. I was sitting on a bench, gazing out at the trees and ambling people, enjoying a moment of being alive, when I saw him approaching. He held a torn envelope in his right hand. Mine was in my pocket.
“Nice day, huh?” Luke took a seat at the far end of the bench.
“Absolutely beautiful,” I said.
“Well, I guess the time has come, the day of our reckoning, the roll of the dice as you so aptly described it.”
“I guess so,” I said. “You wanna go first?”
“Why don’t you.”
“No,” I insisted. “Go ahead.”
“All right.” Luke slapped the envelope on the bench in front of us and smiled. “Drum roll please. . . . On the verbal section of this year’s SAT, Lucas William Barton is ambivalent to admit that his rather unimpressive score was . . . six hundred and fifty.”
“YES!” I jumped up off the bench with a rebel yell. “I win! I win! You lose! I win! Ha!”
“I knew it,” Luke said dejectedly. “Why, what did you get?”
“Seven hundred and twentay, baybayyyyyyyy!” I did a few more victory jumps and a spastic jog around the bench, my joy so extreme and ineffable that it overrode all other sensations and became the very essence of Francesca Castarelli at that moment.
“Oh, wait a second,” Luke said. “ Are we talking about the verbal section? Because I I was actually talking about the quantitative part.”
“Shut up,” I said, my joy instantly truncated. “What does that mean? What did you get?”
“Well, on the quantitative section, as previously mentioned, I got a six hundred and fifty. But on the verbal section I got a different score. It was a little higher.”
“Oh, no.” Apparently my victory dance—the one I was now acutely embarrassed by—had been a bit premature. I should have realized Luke would have done better than that. “What did you get?”
“A seven forty.”
I sat down again and ran my hands through my hair. “Let me see your score sheet,” I said. He handed it over, and there it was, plain as day: 740. As thoroughly vexed as I was by the stark reality of seeing that number, there was another emotion somewhere lurking inside of me, one that felt akin to enraptured anticipation. This was the way I’d envisioned it, and maybe the way I wanted it. I knew what—or I should say whom—I wanted. But I wanted Luke to choose.
“So, then,” I said. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“So . . .” I prompted.
“So, it looks like I won,” Luke said, his mouth widening into a grin I knew all too well.
“Indeed,” I said. “And, how, may I ask, do you intend to exploit your victory?”
“Exploit?” Luke asked.
“You know what I mean. Just say it, okay?”
“Actually, I’m really not sure I understand what you’re getting at. I’m too busy basking in my own glory.”
“Cute.” If he kept this up, I would have to question whether I actually wanted what I thought I wanted.
“So elucidate for me again, quickly,” Luke said. “What did you want to know?”
I pounded my fist against the park bench. “Come on, Luke. I want to know what it is you want.”
“Oh,” he said cheerily. “Why didn’t you just say so? That’s easy.”
“And?” I asked.
“I want you.”
They were the words I had been waiting for, the figurative key to the door of what was certain to be utopia. Luke Barton wanted me, and he was admitting it. My heart was pounding so loudly I could feel the blood rush in my ears.
“Perhaps. I have a suggestion.”
“I figured you might. Let’s hear it.”
“My vote is that we osculate.”
“Osculate?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“Let me show you,” Luke said. He leaned over the bench toward me, cupped his hand against my cheek and, looking into my eyes, pressed his lips to mine in the sweetest, most delicious, perfect kiss I’d ever experienced.