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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel
  

September 5: Read-a-Book Day

Okay, so maybe not much is different this year. But one thing I decided was that since I finally had a real boyfriend, I was going to enjoy that standard dating ritual that most girls my age have—a dinner-and-a-movie date. So far I had only experienced it vicariously through Nikki’s stories and a dozen or so bad romantic comedies. I wanted it to be perfect, so I wore the most flatteringly functional outfit I could put together—tight jeans that showed off my soccer butt, a tank top with a lace trim that embellished my thin waist, a jade necklace that complemented my eyes, and a padded bra that flat-out lied about my (lack of) breasts.

The date started out great. When Jeremy picked me up, he pulled out flowers from behind his back—white lilies with backward-curving petals and little tongue-like tentacles bursting out of them. We’d been together for almost four months (counting the summer, which, to be fair, he was away for most of), and this was the first time he’d ever brought me flowers. Yeah, I totally swooned. Of course, such a romantic gesture clashed with my expectations about casual dinner-and-a-movie date protocol, but not enough to inhibit my full-on girly meltdown.

Dinner was at Red Lobster. After I recovered from the tank of forlorn lobsters imprisoned near the entrance, their pinchers clamped together with rubber bands, I loosened up and enjoyed dinner. While we checked out our menus, the waitress brought us a basket full of delectable biscuits.

“Do these things have cheese in them?” I asked, still chewing.

“Yup,” Jeremy said. “Aren’t they good?”

“Mmm,” I answered. “They’re incredible. But, like, doesn’t anyone realize that this kind of stuff is why this country has the fattest people in the world? I mean, we biggie-size our fries and inject mozzarella inside our pizza crusts, you know?”

“Huh?” he asked, his head still buried in the menu.

“Nothing.”

“They taste great,” he said, looking up. “And the reason we have the fattest people in the world is no one exercises. We drive everywhere.”

This had become a tedious habit of his—pretending not to hear a question, then answering it. Jeremy slapped his menu shut. The waitress came and gave us her Red Lobster shtick straight out of the training manual. He got the surf and turf. I got the tuna, medium rare. Then that thick, immutable silence that occurs after you order food set in. I nibbled on my cheese biscuit, doing a mental Google search under the topic: things to say.

“It’s true,” I said. “The obese ones are always the most indolent. But really, in terms of weight and fitness, America runs the whole gamut.

Jeremy tilted his head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. Chit-chat had never been my forte. “You know, it’s like we have the lazy, fat people, but then we also have the other extreme, the emaciated supermodels and all the rich, yoga-vegan-superstars, people working like mad to be the best, to make more loot, more movies, more stuff.”

Jeremy squinted. “Like Madonna?”

“Exactly,” I said, ecstatic to have made the connection, any connection. I wanted to go for more, to let the conversation float upward into abstraction and absurdity, since I like nothing more than to banter about nothing in particular, but experience said to stop while I was ahead. I decided, instead, to check Jeremy out. I still hadn’t gotten tired of just looking at him, taking in his cut jaw, big shoulders, hair gelled into an unkempt yet perfectly maintained mess. Hazel eyes. Long, curly eyelashes that gave him the lovable-yet-dopey look of the innocuous Joey from Friends.

“So have you met the new guy?” he asked.

This snapped me back into the world. I scrunched up my face, feigning ignorance. “Who?”

“The new dude. Jake Beachkin, or whatever.”

“Oh . . .” I let out a giggle at that name. Sounded like a Barbie doll. He’d be Ken’s snorkeling buddy, who came with a pair of butt-hugging, banana-hammock Speedo swim trunks and a pair of flippers. I cleared my throat and tried to be serious. “You mean Luke Barton?”

“Yeah,” Jeremy said. “D’you meet him? What do you think?”

I waved the question away. “He’s in my AP English class. Totally overrated.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” I felt the inexplicable need to drive this point home more tenaciously. “From what I’ve seen, he’s a pompous jerk.”

“Strong words,” Jeremy said.

“That’s just my personal assessment. You can judge for yourself. Why do you ask, anyway?”

“Just wondering.” Jeremy shrugged. I could tell by how apathetic he was trying to be that something was vexing him. “I heard he’s trying out for the team. He’s a goalie too . . . Whatever. No big deal.”

I hadn’t figured out this whole girlfriend gig yet, but I assumed this was my cue. “Not that it will matter anyway,” I said.

“Whattayamean?” he asked.

“Not that it will matter.” I smiled. “Because you’re better than him anyway.”

Jeremy smiled back. He cracked his knuckles. “That’s right, baby.”

The second half of our date, the movie part, didn’t work out exactly as I’d planned. I was thinking air-conditioned cineplex; Jeremy pulled into the parking lot at Blockbuster. Since he’d paid for dinner and all, I kept quiet. But when he picked out the DVD for 2 Fast 2 Furious, that stupid turbo-testosterone-fueled car-racing flick that, if I recall correctly, didn’t get 2 many Oscar nominations, I decided to take a stand.

“Please no,” I begged, pressing my hands together in the prayer position.

“But the first one was great,” he said. “It’s a great date movie.”

I showed him the movie I had picked out, a foreign art-house film. “I’ve really been wanting to see this.” I knew I had to do a better job of advertising. “The star is this beautiful French actress.”

“Is it French?” Jeremy asked.

“Yeah.”

“Subtitled?”

“I think so.”

“No way.”

I ground my teeth. Guys could be such provincial little puppies. “Okay, well if you insist upon seeing such a bad movie, can’t we at least get some maudlin romantic trash . . . like something with Jennifer Lopez?”

“You girls and your emotional stuff. We’re getting 2 Fast 2 Furious.”

“Can’t we check out the New Releases section?” I pleaded.

“Come on Francesca, don’t you want to see this with me? I’ve been dying to rent it.”

I tried several different types of persuasion—from goading to whining to sweet-talking—but he remained obstinate. I finally capitulated. We drove to his place and dodged his ’rents by parking down the block and slipping into the basement via the back door. Soon enough we were nice and snuggly on the plush maroon love seat that has witnessed roughly half of our hookup sessions, and I didn’t mind so much that Jeremy hadn’t wanted to go to a theater.

After a few dozen previews and a Pepsi commercial, the engines revved and the movie got started. It was just as bad as I’d figured it would be, but when I looked at Jeremy, his face was blue from the screen’s reflection, eyes transfixed like a man possessed. He doesn’t even know I’m here. I decided I should save him. Save him from being sucked into this . . . this quicksand pit of vapidity. I leaned in and started kissing his neck. Now you know I’m here. Jeremy pressed PAUSE on the remote. By the time he got the chance to unpause it, the screen was all snowy fuzz.

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