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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel
  

February 14: Valentine’s Day

The universe really does have a great sense of humor. I mean, what’s the deal with plopping Valentine’s Day right in the middle of the most confusing time in the history of my barely existent romantic life?

I can’t tell you how many times in the past two days I’ve replayed that scene on the swings with Luke in my mind. Was he about to kiss me? Did I just totally imagine it? Did I want him to kiss me? How could I, when I have a boyfriend like Jeremy who adores me and never pulls any of the stupid stunts Luke’s capable of? Never drives me crazy like Luke does all the time. And when my own best friend is so hung up on the guy?

I told myself I’d just gotten carried away with the moment. That was typical me. But today was about love, and that meant today was about me and Jeremy. I spent the afternoon decorating the school gym for the dance. You’ve never seen so much red and pink in all your life. At least, as Vice President, I was allocated a group of three delegates from Student Council whose job descriptions were to accommodate my every whim. We were to keep the tubs of punch full, take turns DJ-ing and emceeing, and watch the bathrooms for shady activity. Basically, hold down the fort.

I was too busy toiling to really enjoy the dance itself, but such is the life of a public servant. At least it went off without any major glitches. Of course no one had the guts to dance for the first hour, but that’s par for the course. Not until the DJ put on that jam from last summer did a small, eclectic smattering of Junior girls start moving. At first all the guys played the wall—scattered clumps of fidgeting head-nodders huddling around the periphery. But it didn’t take long. The song changed to some cloying R&B ballad, and a few couples trickled out. Having broken the seal, hordes of guys flooded the floor. Jeremy even went out there—a rarity. Too bad it was the one night when I couldn’t really be out there with him.

I noticed one guy who wasn’t dancing. He was circumnavigating the floor, taller than the rest, accompanied by a girl with long, blonde wavy hair. They turned in my direction, and my heart raced.

Luke.

He was walking right toward me, holding the girl’s hand, and I frantically searched around for an escape route but realized it would have looked too obvious. So I waited, giving my best impression of a “Hey, what’s up? I’m certainly not at all flustered at the sight of you” expression, and hoping it couldn’t be easily mistaken for “Flustered! Flustered!”

When they reached me, he cupped his hand to my ear and said something that was inaudible over the clamor.

“WHAT?” I yelled back.

Luke leaned in closer and touched his lip to my ear, sending a chill down my spine. “We’re not going to stay. I just wanted to say thanks, for the other day.”

“You’re welcome.”

He stepped to the side and gestured at the blonde. “THIS IS BRITTANY!”

I’d kind of been hoping she would be a toad. Just so Nikki could feel better, I mean. But this girl was really something. Her blond waves cascaded down onto a worn-out t-shirt with “Bakersfield T-ball” stretched wide across her chest. Baggie camouflage pants on her long, lean legs. Momentarily blinded by her annoying resplendence, I didn’t notice she was extending her hand.

“OH, HI!” We shook.

“YEAH, SO WE JUST WANTED TO STOP BY AND SAY HI!” Luke yelled.

I waved and did a nervous little dance.

“OKAY, THEN!” Luke yelled. “HAVE A GOOD NIGHT!”

“YOU, TOO!”

That was weird, I thought as they walked away. It was almost like a staged scene. I think he just wanted me to see her.

No, I was still stuck in paranoia mode. Had to get out of that. I gave my head a little shake, then glanced out at the dance floor, scanning for Nikki. There she was with her second choice date, Dennis Dalelio. Had she seen Luke and Brittany? I hoped not. She actually seemed to be having a good time with Dennis. Maybe pigs would start flying, and Nikki would actually be willing to consider dating someone who wasn’t a total challenge.

I stayed to clean up after the dance, and Jeremy met me right outside the gym door with a fervent kiss and a look that said something was up his sleeve. “What?” I asked. “What?”

Jeremy pulled a key ring out of his front pocket and jingled it in my face.

“What’s that?”

“Keys.”

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” I said. “Keys to what?”

“To our hotel room.”

My eyebrows flew up, and I gaped back at him. “Our what?” I guess it shouldn’t have stunned me as much as it did. Jeremy had been dropping all these hints about how after the dance we’d have a special Valentine’s Day celebration of our own. I’d figured that meant the usual—making out in his basement. But apparently Jeremy had decided to get serious. The question was . . . did I feel the same way?

Jeremy’s smile faltered. “Don’t you think it’s time?” he said. “I mean, we’ve been together forever, Fran. All the other guys and their girlfriends—”

“Okay, stop right there,” I interrupted. “Before you sound way too much like a bad cliché.”

He rolled his eyes, then took a step closer and put his arms around my neck. “I just—I want to be with you, that’s all,” he said softly. And the thing is, I believed him. I knew he really did care about me, and he had been pretty patient. And what was my problem, anyway? He was my boyfriend. This is what girlfriends and boyfriends did.

“Okay,” I said.

“Really?” His whole face lit up, and it made me feel warm and cozy to see how happy he was.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

I called my parents and told them I was staying over at Nikki’s, feeling a streak of rebellious excitement. We drove in separate cars to the Best Western just outside of town.

Jeremy and I walked into room 312, holding hands, not saying much. It was so quiet and anonymous in there, so bereft of atmosphere, that I felt myself losing my nerve almost immediately. In dreams, my first time usually occurred in some fantastical solarium on a bed enshrouded with white lace. Jeremy turned on the radio and the bathroom light. With all the built-up expectation, it was a little unwieldy to get started. Was I supposed to take my clothes off first, or wait?

We sat beside each other awkwardly on the bed. He leaned in and kissed the side of my neck in a way that he knows gets to me, then moved over to kiss me on the mouth. I closed my eyes, trying to relax, but it was no use. My whole body tensed up, and finally I couldn’t take another second—I pushed him away, mumbling, “Stop, I’m sorry, stop.”

“What happened?” he asked, opening his eyes.

I shrugged.

“What’s that s’posed to mean?” Jeremy asked, stupefied. “Why did you push me away like that?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t.”

He let out a frustrated sigh, then fell back on the bed. “So why’d you say okay, before?” he asked, his voice barely masking his annoyance.

“Jeremy, I’m sorry. I thought I could, but—I’m not ready.”

Another deep sigh. Then . . . “Okay.” He turned over and groaned into the pillow.

So much for our special Valentine’s Day together.

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