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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel
  

October 27: Mother-in-Law’s Day

I had my second tutorial with Luke today. Having listened to a weeklong stream of vitriol from Jeremy about the chump who usurped his spot on the team, I couldn’t help but feel combative toward Luke. Instead of reciprocating my chilly demeanor, though, Luke responded by being gentlemanly and sweet.

“How’s your boyfriend feeling?” he asked.

“Okay.” I figured concise replies would discourage further interrogation.

“That sucks for him, man. Ankle injuries are the worst.”

“Yeah.”

“So how long have you two been going out?”

“Four months.”

“Oh yeah? Did you have a crush on him before that?” he asked, giving me a teasing grin.

“Not really,” I said curtly. “I thought we were supposed to be doing vocab stuff.”

“Oh right. My bad.” He shuffled through his papers and handed me a catalog of words. “Here. How about we just try having a conversation using the words on this sheet?”

“Sure,” I said. “You start.”

Luke cleared his throat. “Hypothetically, it’s best for a newcomer to fully immerse himself in his new environs.”

I squinted at the page, trying to assemble a thought. “Unless, of course, the new environs are fraught with freaks who throw themselves ignominiously at the newcomer.”

“In which case, he should recoil from those noxious creatures, into his own realm.”

I gave Luke a look. “Which assumes, perhaps erroneously, that our newcomer is male.” He laughed. “In which case,” I added. “He should be wary not to ostracize himself, to keep from turning himself into a pariah.”

“Perhaps, though,” Luke responded, “if he finds a woman worthy of his idolatry—the very paragon of grace and beauty—and if she arouses within him deep pathos, he will be too preoccupied to care that he’s a pariah.”

I looked at him. There was something coquettish to his tone, but I couldn’t decipher the meaning of what he’d said through the thick morass of needlessly big words.

“But where would one find such a babe?” I asked. “A creature so incredible that she made all other females seem bland and superfluous.”

“He may not have to look far.”

“No vocab words,” I said. “You lose.”

We did a few more exercises, then played Boggle for the rest of the allotted time. When the session was over, I asked Luke about one of the plants in his verdant front lawn as a guise to get him to escort me outside. We were barely out the door when I saw Nikki strutting toward us, using the lawn as a runway to show off a mighty scant outfit.

“Hey!” I said, stretching my acting skills to the utmost. “How opportune. We just finished. Luke, I think you remember my friend Nikki, the benefactor for our tutoring sessions.”

“Of course.”

“So how was he?” Nikki asked in her sultriest tone. “Is he as good a wordsmith as he claims to be?”

I looked at Luke, raising my eyebrows. I wasn’t about to give his superinflated ego any extra stroking.

But it didn’t seem to matter, anyway. Luke wasn’t even paying attention to me. His eyes were glued to Nikki, and judging from the way he was ogling her, even the great Luke Barton was mortal. His mild amusement for our silly little word games was immaterial in comparison. Whatever electrostatic current Nikki and Luke were volleying back and forth didn’t involve me. I was definitely extraneous here. “Is your cell phone in your car?” I asked. “I need to call my mom.”

“Oh,” Nikki said, not even looking at me. “Yeah. It’s in the car. Back seat.”

I sat in the car with the radio on, pretending to call mom but fully absorbed in watching them. It’s weird to witness raw, chemical attraction. I know I should have been relieved to see the way they were flirting with each other. It meant Nikki’s plan was already working, and I was one step closer to saying adios to being mocked by Luke on a regular basis. But for some reason, the whole scene annoyed me. The way Nikki laughed extra hard at whatever Luke was saying, leaning in to touch his arm briefly. The way he looked at her like all he wanted was to kiss her. I’d always thought that once I had a boyfriend I wouldn’t mind seeing how silly people got around someone they liked, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was just too cynical for my own good.

When Nikki finally tore herself away to come back to the car, the whole ride home was one long rant about how “intensely” she and Luke had “connected.” I said I was glad to help out. And I was . . . right?

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