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Head Over Heels
an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel
  

March 21: Naw Ruz (Persian New Year)

I was totally prepared. I really was. Jeremy picked me up at home. We went to Applebee’s for dinner. It went fine, though my Chicken Cobb Salad was more filling than I’d expected and left me feeling less than sexy. And then, there was the fact that Jeremy kept looking at his watch. He snarfed down his food and, even though I was less than half-finished with my salad, asked for the check. We had to hurry up, he said, or we would “miss our window.”

He drove like a banshee to his place. We dashed up to his room. We started kissing, with good old Les Nubians playing on the stereo. And then it happened, again. I felt terrible when it hit me, that I still couldn’t go through with this. It was cruel to Jeremy, I knew. But that wasn’t enough to make this huge, gigantic mistake worth it. You can never have another first time, you know?

“Man!” Jeremy said, sensing my withdrawal. “What’s wrong this time?”

I bit my lip. What was wrong . . . that I still couldn’t get Luke off my brain? That, if I would just be honest with myself, for once, I would know I’d only decided to do this as a way to forget about Luke and stop feeling guilty with Jeremy?

“Maybe we should wait until after spring break,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me? After you promised me, again? I’m sorry, but you just can’t do this to me, Fran. I asked you if you were sure, remember? You said you were. You swore you were.”

I flinched. “I know. I’m so sorry. But the first time has to feel right. And this just doesn’t.”

Jeremy turned away, buttoning up his shirt. “That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. With you. With us. I think it’s time we took a break.”

“Whoa,” I said. “You’re gonna break up with me because I won’t have sex with you?”

“It’s not just that, Francesca. It’s the way you’ve led me on, and all the Luke stuff . . . I don’t even feel like you like me. You’re just using me for . . .”

“I’m using you? Interesting. What am I using you for?”

“I don’t know. As a prop. It’s like I’m another notch on your stick or something. You know, Vice President. Soccer Captain. Girlfriend of Jeremy. I feel like you’d put me on your college application if you thought it would help you out.”

“Wow,” I said. “Well, it’s good to know how you really feel.”

Jeremy let out a frustrated groan. “That came out wrong,” he said. “It’s not like that.”

“So then . . . what’s it like?”

Jeremy raked his hand through his hair. He sat back down on the bed and faced me. “Actually, what I was trying to say to you . . . what I’ve been wanting to say is . . . I love you.”

“What?”

“I said, I love you.” Jeremy looked satisfied with himself, for the valor it took get this out. But somehow, just like everything else tonight, it didn’t feel right. See, I had thought about those three words in relation to him. I had thought about whether we’d say them, and how, and how you would have to feel right before you knew it was time to say them. I had even felt close to saying it myself. But I wasn’t sure anymore, and, regardless, this was not the right moment.

“Did you not hear me?” he repeated. “I said I love you.”

“I heard you.”

“And?”

“And . . .”

Jeremy’s eyes flashed. “Forget it.” He said. “Forget I said anything.”

“What do you want me to do?” I entreated him. “Just a second ago, you wanted to break up. You said I was superficial and I was using you for my college application, and now you’re telling me you love me? You can’t keep vacillating like that.”

“Forget it,” he repeated.

“No, Jeremy, wait—I mean, the truth is . . . I think I love you, too,” I forced out, desperate to stop this situation from spinning further out of control.

“Oh, my God, Fran. You think you love me? That’s even worse than not saying it at all. I don’t need your pity. I was right the first time—it’s time to take a break.”

“So now we’re breaking up?”

“Taking a break,” Jeremy corrected.

The emerging possibility that he wasn’t kidding, that I could, within the next few seconds, become the former girlfriend of Jeremy Malone, suddenly hit me. But I wasn’t exactly grief-stricken. Just stunned. It was crazy the way you could be one thing one second and something else the next. How fast life could change so drastically. “You really mean that?” I asked.

“Uh huh.”

“All right, then. I guess that’s that.”

“I guess so. I should probably drive you home now, before my parents get here.”

Up to this point, I was convinced that whatever damage I’d just incurred was still reversible. It was a fight, and maybe we’d take a break, but not for long. But the fact that he wanted me to leave now, before his parents got home, seemed extra final.

“I’ll walk,” I said, knowing it would either be the longest drive of my life, or we’d get back together. Right now I wanted neither.

“Don’t be stupid. It’s like a half-hour walk. I’ll drive you.”

“No, really. Thanks, but I’ll walk.”

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