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Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the SAT

by Charles Harrington Elster & Joseph Elliot

An excerpt from Chapter One

Note: The words printed in boldface are SAT words. All the SAT words appearing in Tooth and Nail are defined in a glossary at the back of the book.

* * * * *

A Saturday in early September

Caitlin Ciccone knew what was coming and she dreaded it. They were standing by the gate waiting for the call to board the plane.

"Don't say it, Dad. Please."

But he said it anyway.

"'Parting is such sweet sorrow,' my dear."

Caitlin rolled her eyes. "Dad, I swear!"

"Don't swear, Caitlin. Remember what Juliet told Romeo? 'Do not swear at all; or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self.'"

"Yes, I know, but—"

"But nothing. I'm sending my daughter—my only child—off to college. Can't I be a little sentimental?"

Caitlin stuffed her hands in the pockets of her faded jeans and prepared for the inevitable. Her father was an English professor who loved to quote Shakespeare. Sometimes he couldn't help being a bit pretentious and verbose.

"My little scholar, off to 'suck the sweets of sweet philosophy' as the eloquent Shakespeare put it so aptly in The Taming of the Shrew. Now, I want you to keep in mind Tranio's advice: 'No profit grows where is no pleasure taken.'"

Caitlin listened stoically as her father delivered his grandiloquent valedictory address. When the flight was announced, he held out his arms and they hugged for a long time.

"I'll miss you, sweetheart. Be assiduous. Work hard."

"I will. And I'll write—a lot."

"You'd better. I don't want you racking up the exorbitant phone bills you do at home."

"I won't."

"But call if you need anything."

Caitlin kissed her father's cheek. "Thanks, Dad. Don't worry. I'll be fine." She brushed back her long black hair, picked up her bags, and strode through the gate.

Caitlin had said goodbye to her mother on the phone the night before, and her mother had cried. Her parents had been divorced for six years, since she was twelve. Throughout her four years at the High School for Literature and the Performing Arts in Manhattan, she had lived with her mother one month and her father the next.

On the plane to Chicago, Caitlin thought about how all the moving back and forth had wreaked havoc on her social life. Perhaps to compensate for that disruption, she had applied herself to her schoolwork, earning straight A's in English and scoring high on her SATs. In her senior year she was elected editor of the school newspaper and at graduation she was salutatorian, ranking second in her class behind a nerd who would up going to Harvard. The reward for all her diligence was a generous scholarship to Holyfield College, one of the most prestigious schools in the Midwest, with excellent programs in her primary interests, English and journalism.

In Chicago she changed planes for Des Moines, Iowa, where she boarded a bus for Holyfield, a small city another two hours away.

Caitlin stared out the window as the bus plowed down straight two-lane roads through the rich abundance of the flat midwestern farmland. Acres and acres of tall, tasseled corn rolled by, along with rippling fields of hay and a lovely, golden sort of grass that she thought might be wheat. Quiescent cows looked up as the bus passed. Garrulous birds congregated on power lines and circled over fields and barns. It was beautiful country, wholesome and salutary, she thought, but so alien compared with the familiar concrete and congestion of New York City.

A sign for the city of Holyfield flashed by the window, rousing Caitlin from her contemplative mood. Within minutes the bus arrived at the terminal downtown. Caitlin gathered her belongings and made her way to the taxi stand outside. . . .

* * * * *

Phil McKnight set down his two ponderous suitcases and camera bag on the sidewalk outside Prospero Gate. All around him a bustling crowd of students and families and friends unloaded sedans, station wagons, vans, and Jeeps.

Two days ago Phil had left his neighborhood and high school friends and brother and sister and parents in San Diego, California, and boarded a train that had taken him to Las Vegas, then Salt Lake City, then through the Rocky Mountains to Denver, then over the plains to Omaha, and finally to Osceola, Iowa. From there he had taken a bus to the City of Holyfield. Others might have been impatient with such a protracted trip, but Phil had no regrets about his choice of transportation. The train had been much less expensive than flying, and he had enjoyed seeing the country.

As he watched the taxi dwindle to the size of a matchbox, Phil remembered how worried and vulnerable his mother had looked when she had said goodbye and how as he got on the train his dad had told him it was okay to be scared because everyone else going off to college was probably scared too. Now, standing before the entrance to his home for the next four years, Phil had to admit that he was nervous, but he wasn't scared. Something told him everything was going to be fine.

Phil took a deep breath, enjoying the novel feeling of complete autonomy. It's great being on your own, he thought, especially when you've got a chunk of money saved up from working all summer caddying for the prosperous golfers at Mission Trails Country Club.

It was a mild day, but the crisp smell of fall already filled the air. Dead leaves scraped along the sidewalk, blown by light gusts of wind. Phil zipped up his red-and-white Hoover High School varsity jacket. Shading his eyes from the mid-afternoon sun, he surveyed the scene.

So this is Holyfield College, he thought.

# # #

Copyright © 1994 by Charles Harrington Elster and Joseph Elliot.
All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.