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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

November 23: National Cashew Day

Okay, fine. I miss him. But that’s totally between us, okay? Not a single soul will ever know. And it’s just because he’s the only person who can actually keep up with my vocabulary, and I think it really was helping me prep for the SATs. That’s all.

Anyway, Nikki convened an “impromptu emergency meeting” after school today, at Steak & Shake. I wasn’t sure what it was about, but I had an inkling that it was about him, so I wasn’t too pumped. We sat at our regular booth, the one nearest the jukebox. Never one for circumlocution, Nikki got directly to the point.

“I’m thinking about . . . you know. With him.”

“You mean Luke?” I asked, almost regurgitating a mouthful of vanilla shake.

“Of course! Who did you think I meant?”

“No, I guess I knew. It’s just kind of a shock.”

“Well it shouldn’t be. I’ve been talking your ear off for almost three weeks about how mind-blowing he is.”

“Yeah, on the phone . . . you have . . .” I mumbled incoherently.


“I said, you’ve been telling me on the phone, and by email. I haven’t actually seen your face in almost a week.”

“Oh, honey, I know. I’m sorry. But that’s my whole point. He’s just swooped in on my life and taken over my every thought. His presence . . . it’s just so big and . . . overwhelming . . . and . . .”

Prodigious?” I asked.

“Is that the word? I guess so. Anyway, so what do you think? Should I listen to my heart and just go for it?”

“Hmmm . . .” I slurped on my straw as a delaying tactic. My instincts were screaming No way, but I knew that wasn’t totally objective, considering how incensed I was at Luke. Instead of blurting out what I really thought, I decided to do some careful testing first. “So, let’s go over the pros and cons here. What are your reasons for thinking this is a good idea?”

Nikki snorted out a laugh. “I love it. You’re so calculating about stuff like this. My reasons . . .” She slurped her straw and swallowed. “My reasons are that he’s the most attractive, mysterious, interesting, stimulating guy I’ve ever met.” She looked into the distance and smiled this big, dreamy, sickening smile. “He’s the first guy I’ve hung out with who’s smarter than me. Way smarter. Did I tell you he wants to be an anthropologist?”

“Several times,” I said. “And you keep telling me how you love the fact that he’s all independent and enigmatic. Which is great, but it reminds me of your scouting report on Jason Reynolds, who ultimately broke your heart because he was a total scumbag player. My point is, aren’t you worried about Luke being a commitment-phobe?”

“No . . . I mean, we’ve been hanging out like three nights a week. I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re on the verge of going out.”

“Have you discussed it?”

“Not explicitly.”

“You haven’t had the relationship talk? The where-is-this-going talk?”

“No, Fran. Chill out. I don’t want to scare him off or—”

“Because I’m concerned that you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. I mean, I’ve never seen you so exposed like this, and I really don’t trust this guy.”

“Oh, come on. It’s the twenty-first century. You don’t have to have a ring on your finger to have sex.”

“You say that, but I know for a fact that you’ll feel seriously aggrieved if he disappears afterward and acts like you don’t mean anything.”

“Uh, excuse me,” a voice said. Nikki and I looked up. It was the waiter, hovering there above us. He was new here. He had on the standard Steak & Shake uniform of goofy paper hat and a red bow tie. Steak & Shake bore some resemblance to one of those old diners from the fifties, with checkered floors and neon signs and oldies-but-goodies playing. Normally I revered this, but right now it just seemed ersatz. The waiter reached down to hand us menus.

“Actually, I don’t think we need them,” I said. “We know what we want.”

“Okaaay.” The waiter scrabbled for his pad and pen. “Go ahead . . .”

“I’ll have the Frisco Melt Deluxe with cheese fries,” I said.

“Got it.” The waiter scribbled.

“And I’ll have a bowl of chili and the house salad with ranch dressing,” Nikki said.

“Okay, then.” The waiter finished scribbling. “Thanks, guys.”

As soon as he was out of earshot, Nikki leaned in and looked me in the eyes. “I think I know what’s going on. Luke mentioned you two had an argument at your last tutoring lesson. Is that the problem here?”

“Not at all,” I said. “I’m just worried that you’re falling in deep like with him, like long-term-boyfriend, potential love like. And if that’s the case, then this may not be the best stratagem.”

“Why are you so convinced that he’s gonna break my heart?” Nikki leaned her elbows into the table. In the background, someone was singing about a “Devil with a Blue Dress On.” “Do you know something I don’t know?”

“I just don’t trust him. I think he’s a player.”

“Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough,” Nikki said. “Because as soon as I get the chance, I’m going after him.”

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