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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

October 31: Halloween

Just got back from the Halloween party at Megan’s house, which means I come wielding copious amounts of gossip.

Megan, it should be noted, is one of the members of the Triumvirate. (They don’t call themselves that—it’s a sobriquet Nikki and I came up with freshman year to describe their ambition for absolute dominion over the social functions of our class.) Megan, Cecily and Shannon are the three “coolest” girls in our class, as defined by . . . well, themselves. There’s no need to describe them in depth, because they’re as shallow as the kiddie pool. I think most high schools have some version of The Triumvirate. In summary—Megan’s the imperious leader who has the most money of the three, and thus throws the best parties. Cecily’s the pretty but vacuous idiot with the unbridled “Omigod!” enthusiasm. And Shannon, while clearly the smartest, is a witch whom I have loathed since freshman year, when I overheard her describe me as “insignificant.”

So Nikki and I showed up late, partly due to her neurotic attention to the smallest minutiae of her appearance while getting ready. Such thrilling topics as the even distribution of self-tanner somehow became fodder for extensive debate. The sad thing was, I picked out our costumes—nurses, how original—because I figured it would be simple. But I forgot about Nikki’s need to look absolutely perfect, for purposes of enticing Luke. Put that together with a nurse costume, and you have a recipe for getting-ready longevity.

By the time we got there, Luke was already the epicenter of a big crowd. He was dressed up as a monk—a monk who, paradoxically, was surrounded by girls. It was just too much. The sounds of you’re-so-funny giggle fits emanating from his band of cloying disciples was enough to make even the most stalwart of stomach want to vomit.

“I’m going to get a drink,” Nikki said.

And this from a girl who generally repudiates alcohol, like me. We went down to the keg, at the end of the gargantuan deck behind Megan’s palatial home.

High school parties provide some of the best people-watching in the world—especially the ones that actually have alcohol, like Megan’s did. What looks like social chaos is, upon closer inspection, an organized group ritual. People gather in conservative clumps of the same friends they hang out with outside of parties. Everyone grasps their cups like security blankets. Some groups seem entirely dedicated to making themselves laugh. Guys gape at the girls they covet. Girls play coy, pretending not to notice, but are actually putting on a show with their radiant accidental smiles and winsome little hair flips.

Then the alcohol kicks in, for the kids who like to get drunk. A fair amount of guys start acting like imbeciles, garnering as much camera time as they can with un-funny jokes and strident cackling. The pugnacious drunks start fights. The weepy drunks cry.

Me, I tend to opt out of all the above in favor of the state of mind I know best—sobriety. Tonight I was the designated driver for Nikki and Jeremy, but the truth is I never really want to drink anyway. It just makes my stomach upset, and after seeing how stupid people around me act, why would I want to look like them?

First up was the Triumvirate debacle. On occasion, two members of the clique turn on each other, usually spurred by the passive-aggressive conniving of the third member. This time it was Cecily vs. Shannon, with Megan too absorbed in Luke to take part. It’s hard to say what trifle caused the rift, but it somehow resulted in Cecily tossing her beer in Shannon’s face. Shannon screamed indignantly that her shirt was ruined, then responded by dousing Cecily’s shirt with beer.

The next vaudeville act was, for me, the most entertaining, and not just because it involved my best friend. Just past midnight, Megan cleared out her parents’ opulent living room furniture and turned the room into a dance floor. By the time I made it inside to check on my fellow nurse, she was part of a group of girls all dancing around Luke like he was some kind of Greek god or something. I mean, please. He had to be getting a real rush from all that ridiculous attention.

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t enjoy the spectacle on the dance floor. My slouching, bleary-eyed boyfriend kept muttering angry comments from his spot on the couch next to me. “What is it about that guy?” Jeremy said, shaking his head. “He’s such a tool.”

I couldn’t help half-wishing I were out there dancing too—not with Luke, of course. But Jeremy wasn’t up for it, and I didn’t want to leave him by himself.

After the big Luke-a-thon dance, as I correctly surmised, the rest of the night was anticlimactic. Before long, the party thinned out and I could no longer stifle the yawns. “Let’s go,” I said.

“Gladly,” Jeremy said.

I surveyed the dance floor for Nikki, to no avail. She’d vanished. Went back out onto the porch. No dice. Went back inside and asked the girls in the long queue for the bathroom if they’d seen Nikki. They all nodded lethargically, except one, who pointed up. I walked around to the front and went upstairs. A voice in my head was telling me that someone else was missing from downstairs, too, but I ignored the thought, focused on finding Nikki.

I heard them before I saw them. A familiar giggle, and little murmurings I couldn’t quite make out. I told my legs to walk away, but for some reason I couldn’t. I took two steps up, and . . .

I froze, my mouth falling open. They were standing in the hallway near the wall, their lips locked in a kiss like no kiss I’d ever seen before. Intense, like they were afraid to let go of each other, but still sweet and soft at the same time. They were so in sync I felt like they’d discussed it in advance.

Jeremy and I don’t kiss like that. For some reason it was the first coherent thought I could muster. And I was sure it was the reason for the strange way my heart was squeezing.

I cleared my throat, “Um . . . excuse me?”

They broke apart and turned at the sound of my voice, but neither of them seemed too happy to see me. My face felt warm, and I couldn’t meet Nikki’s eye.

“I was about to leave. Just seeing if you wanted to come with,” I said. I was going for casual, but apparently the weird high-pitched thing that happened instead wasn’t under my control.

“Go ahead,” Nikki said. “I think I’ll stay right here.”

“Right. Um, okay.” I nodded, then headed back downstairs to find Jeremy, swallowing back the funny taste in my mouth.

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