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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

September 13: National Peanut Day

Today was the first day of soccer tryouts. It’s weird to be the captain and have to wear your game face all the time. Coach Haskins started out practice with some rousing oration about how we could be contenders for state this year. It would, however, take the kind of consistent focus and discipline shown last year by this year’s captain, Francesca Castarelli. People clapped, and I got all aw-shucks and kicked at the dirt with my cleat.

“You probably have something you want to say to the girls, don’t you?” Coach asked.

I blanched. “Something to say?”

“Yes. You know, a motivational speech for the players fighting for a spot.”

I hated set-ups like that. It was like when someone said how funny your joke was, right before you told it—always killed it. “A speech, right . . . the thing is, my favorite tradition on this team is the warm-up run, so I was hoping to get to know the girls while we run. To show them that I not only talk the talk . . . but jog the jog.”

Coach agreed it was a good idea. In my most commandingly alpha male voice, I told everyone to get off their butts and follow me. They did. It had been a full-fledged tsunami all day until right before school let out, so it was like trudging through marshlands.

“For those of you who are returning to the girls’ varsity team,” I said, loud enough for Coach to hear. “You know that the most fun we have is after the games we’ve won. But to get to those celebrations, especially the big ones at the end of the season, we have to make it through weeks of wind sprints and lung-heaving, hard-working, tough-tackling G.I. Jane-style pract—”

“Fran,” a voice to my right said. “You can stop. She’s not watching.”

“Oh,” I said, already foreseeing the slip in my credibility as captain.

“Can we run over past the boys’ field?” someone asked.

“How about this,” I said. “We’ll stop right here and count out a set of fifty jumping jacks. Then I’ll score some points for being tough, and we can run over there without risking Coach Haskin’s wrath. Deal?”

We did our fifty jacks, even relishing the out-loud counting for its wink-wink, covert mission element. Of course, this diplomacy was part of a larger psychological ploy on my part to win the hearts and minds of my teammates. It was the old foot-in-the-door ruse. Once I establish myself as one of them, I have paved the way to becoming their intrepid leader.

“Okay, let’s run behind the goal,” I said. “And pick up the pace, so we don’t look too conspicuous.”

I lengthened my strides and listened with satisfaction to the euphonious patter of running feet behind me. I had always dug this part of team sports—a group of people moving in unison toward a common goal. In this case, our rather ignoble short-term goal was to watch cute boys run around in shorts.

“Kyle Yaeger is so yummy,” someone said.

“He’s looking over here . . .”

A din of chatter escalated—the sound of friction between guys and girls checking each other out. As we ran behind the goal, I finally spotted the one I’d been looking for. My guy. Or, I should say, my guy’s better half.

“Hey goalie,” I yelled out. “Nice butt!”

Waves of laughter erupted behind me. I congratulated myself. Not only was I their dauntless leader but witty to boot, and with a cute goalie for a boyfriend. He turned around in a molasses-slow way that struck me as surreal. Uh oh, I thought, his smiling face registering in my mind. That butt doesn’t belong to my boyfriend. My teammates let out a collective gasp. That butt belongs to that face. I broke into a half-sprint at the revelation. And that face belongs to Luke Barton.

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