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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel
  

December 10: Human Rights Day

When I got home tonight, my answering machine was blinking with three messages from Nikki, saying we had to talk . . . now. The urgency seemed to increase with each one, so I grabbed some special “medicine” from the emergency supply in my bedroom and took off right away to drive to her house. Mrs. Abrams answered the door, and even though I normally love hanging around to chat with Nikki’s mom, this time I pretty much brushed her off with a quick hello. I ran up the staircase, taking in the pictures of Nikki and her sister, Claudia. The two of them get incrementally younger as you ascend the stairs, so that, at the top, they are just frizzy-haired little munchkins gamboling about naked in the sandbox. I did our secret knock and then opened her door.

“Oh, my God, Fran, I’m so glad you’re here,” Nikki burst out as soon as she saw me. She was lying diagonally across the bed, face down, not a good sign. Face down meant she’d been burying her face in the bedspread to cry.

“I brought you chocolate,” I said, holding up the little yellow box. “Whitman’s truffles.”

She forced a weak smile, and I saw the telltale redness in her eyes. “Thanks,” she said. “But I don’t know if I can stomach anything right now. Could you just put it on my bed stand?”

Whoa. Not an augur of good things to come. The last time Nikki snubbed chocolate was after she’d been tripped by Gil Smith at a seventh-grade track meet. I reached down to hug her. “What is it? What happened?”

Nikki slithered back on the bed and sat Indian-style, her back propped against the bed board. Pulling up a desk chair, I scrambled to get into listening position. “So, you know how I was planning to move things further with Luke, right?” she asked.

I bit my lip, a sense of dread coming over me. “Right,” I said, eyeing her warily.

“Well, the last two times I’ve seen him we haven’t had much alone time. But tonight, I was over there and no one else was home, so it was just us.”

“Uh huh.” The dread was slowly spreading through my body, reaching every limb until even my fingers tingled with apprehension. “So . . .”

“So we’re in his room right, and we’re listening to some funky music, and we’re, you know, kissing and stuff. And we’re both really into it. We’re totally dissolved in the moment, in this perfect rhythm with each other . . .”

I swallowed, feeling the same bitter taste fill my mouth as the time I’d seen them kissing for the first time at the Halloween party.

Synchronicity,” I said, almost whispering.

“Exactly. It was amazing. The way he touched me just made me feel so . . . I don’t know, so great.”

I glanced away, trying to hide the swirl of emotions inside of me. Focus, I reminded myself. This was about Nikki. She needed me right now, and I had to forget about whatever I was feeling. I narrowed my eyes at her, still confused about where everything went wrong. “So then, did you guys . . .?”

Nikki blinked a couple times, and I saw she was about to cry again. “I’m sorry Fran,” she said. “I feel like such an idiot.”

“Nikki, what happened? What did Luke do to you?” I jumped up and came onto the bed with her, putting my arms around her and pulling her into a hug. Now I was just getting scared.

“No, it’s nothing like that,” she said, her voice muffled into my shoulder. She drew back and sniffled, then wiped her hand across her nose. “I had it all prepared, what I was going to say and everything, and I know this sounds ridiculous now, but I said I want you, right now.”

“Wow. You really said that?”

“Yeah.”

“And what did he do?”

“He stopped . . .” Nikki tried to stay impassive, but her lower lip betrayed her with a faint quiver. She fought it off, squinching her mouth up tight. She’s really adroit at not crying, way better than me. “He just stopped.”

“What?”

“He went cold. When I asked what was wrong, he just said he didn’t think we should.”

I frowned, confused. Luke had rejected Nikki? A million thoughts crowded into my brain at once. Why would the ultimate player turn down sex with someone as gorgeous as my best friend? What was up with that? Beneath all of it, though, I felt such a huge burst of relief. For Nikki’s sake, of course. Because I was still convinced it would have been a huge mistake for her to sleep with him.

“So, what did you say after that?” I asked gently.

“I didn’t have to say anything.” Nikki was shaking her head dejectedly. “I was just so pissed, and you know how bad I am at hiding my emotions. Here I am giving him the green light and he screeches the brakes. I was like, ‘You jerk! You should feel privileged. How dare you!’”

I started to smile. “Wow, you really said that stuff to him?”

Nikki groaned. “No . . .” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I was in shock. I guess I was just hurt, you know? I couldn’t process the fact that I’d been wanting him all this time, and he didn’t want me back. I just wanted to get out of there . . . I didn’t say anything.”

The look on Nikki’s face at that moment almost broke my heart. It was enough to make me hate Luke Barton more than I ever had before. “And he didn’t even try to stop you?” I asked. “He didn’t say anything?”

“He said there was too big of an ‘emotional disequilibrium’ between us . . . that it wouldn’t be fair to me.”

Hmm. The thing was, as angry as I wanted to be at Luke, hearing that made me waver a little. It actually sounded like he was kind of trying to do the right thing. But this was clearly not the time to make that point to Nikki.

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