Rules of attraction, p.11
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       Rules of Attraction, p.11

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 11


  Livin’ with the Professor means I’ll also be livin’ in the same house as Kiara. That’s a bad move on so many levels. “Don’t I have any say in this?”

  “No. ”

  “¡Vete a la mierda!”

  “Yeah, well, you created the bullshit you’re livin’ in,” my brother tells me.

  “I told you those drugs weren’t mine. ”

  He sits up. “Carlos, since you came here all you’ve done is talk about drugs. They found chora in your locker, along with an insane amount of OC. Even if they weren’t yours, you’ve made yourself the scapegoat. ”

  “This is such bullshit. ”

  A half hour later, after I get out of the shower, Brittany is back. She’s sitting at the table, wearing a hot pink velour sweatsuit that hugs her curves. I swear that chica should just live here . . . she’s around all the time.

  I walk over to my bed, suddenly wishin’ this wasn’t a studio apartment. I’m a pissed-off guy thirsty for revenge. I won’t rest until I know who stuck those drugs in my locker. Whoever it was is gonna pay.

  “I hope you don’t get expelled,” Brittany says in a sad tone. “But I know Alex and Professor Westford will do all they can to help. ”

  “Don’t sound so depressed,” I tell her. “Now that I gotta move out, you can be here whenever the hell you want. Lucky you. ”

  “Carlos, retroceda,” Alex says roughly.

  Why should I back off ? It’s the truth.

  “Believe it or not, Carlos, I want you to be happy here. ” Brittany pushes a brand-new cell phone toward me. “I got you this. ”

  “For what? So you and Alex can check up on me?”

  She shakes her head. “No. I just thought you’d want one so you can call us if you need us. ”

  I pick up the phone. “Who’s payin’ for it?”

  “Does it matter?” she asks.

  My family obviously can’t afford it. I turn my back on Brittany and the phone. “I don’t need it,” I tell her. “Save your money. ”

  The three of us pile into Brittany’s Beemer a few hours later. I should have known Brittany would come on this little adventure to drop me off at the Professor’s house, probably to make sure I’m really out of her and my brother’s hair.

  Alex pulls onto one of the winding roads leading up into the mountains. When I look out at the big houses on either side of the road, it’s obvious we’ve entered the rich side of town. Poor people don’t post signs like NO TRESPASSING, PRIVATE DRIVE, PRIVATE PROPERTY, MONITORED BY CAMERA SURVEILLANCE. I should know because I’ve been poor my entire life, and the only person I know who ever posted a sign like these is my friend Pedro, and he actually stole the sign off a rich guy’s yard.

  We pull up a brick driveway leading to a two-story house built right into the mountain. I sit up and take in my surroundings. I’ve never lived in a place where you couldn’t easily throw a stone at your next-door neighbor’s window.

  You’d think I’d be thrilled at the chance to live in this fancy house, but it just reminds me I’m an outsider. I’m not an idiot; I know as soon as I leave here I’ll be as poor as I always was—or in jail. This place is just a tease, and I can’t wait to get the hell out of here.

  As soon as we park, Westford comes out of the house. He’s a tall guy with gray hair and a lot of wrinkles around his eyes as if he’s smiled too much over the years and his skin is rebelling.

  Before I even step out of the car, three more people pile out. It’s like a fuckin’ parade of white folks, one whiter than the next.

  When Kiara walks out, her familiar face is as much a relief as it is an annoyance. In one morning I went from rigging her locker to being handcuffed and thrown in jail. My life went from amusement to completely fucked-up in a matter of hours.

  Kiara has her light brown hair pulled back, and is wearing jean shorts and a baggy, puke green–colored T-shirt. She definitely didn’t dress up for my arrival, that’s for sure. She’s even got smudges of brown dirt or grease on her cheek and hands.

  Next to Kiara is her brother. He must’ve been a mistake or an afterthought, ’cause he looks like he could be in kindergarten. The little kid is a mess. He’s got leftover chocolate smeared all over his chin.

  “This is my wife, Colleen,” he says, gesturing to the thin woman next to him. “And my son, Brandon. Of course you already know my daughter, Kiara. ”

  The Professor and his wife are wearing matching white golf shirts. I can totally see them playin’ golf at a fancy country club on the weekends. Brandon could be in movies or commercials— he’s so annoyingly energetic it almost makes you want to give him Z-Tabs to make him zone out.

  While Brittany and Alex do the handshake thing with the Professor’s wife and kids, Kiara steps closer to me.

  “You okay?” she asks so softly I can hardly hear her.

  “I’m fine,” I mumble. I don’t want to talk about bein’ arrested and taken away in the back of the squad car to juvie.

  Damn, this is awkward. The little kid, Brandon, pulls at my pant leg. His fingers have melted chocolate all over them. “Do you play soccer?”

  “No. ” I look over at Alex, who doesn’t seem to notice or doesn’t care the runt is messin’ up my jeans.

  Mrs. Westford smiles as she guides Brandon away from me. “Carlos, why don’t you take a few minutes to get settled, then come to the backyard for some lunch. Dick, take Carlos upstairs and show him around. ”

  Dick? I shake my head. The Professor doesn’t have a problem being called Dick? If my name was Richard, I’d go by Richard or Rich . . . not Dick. Hell, I’d even settle for being called Chard.

  I grab my duffel.

  “Carlos, follow me,” Westford says, “I’ll show you around. Kiara, why don’t you show Alex and Brittany your car. ”

  The rest of the crew follows Kiara while I follow Professor Dick.

  “This is our home,” Westford says. Just as I suspected, the inside is as massive as the outside. It’s not as big as Madison’s place, but it’s still bigger than any place I’ve ever lived. Big paintings line the hallway. They’ve got a nice flat-screen TV hanging on the wall over the fireplace. “Just make yourself at home. ”

  Yeah, right. This is as much my home as the White House.

  “Here’s the kitchen,” he says, leading me into a huge room with an oversized stainless-steel fridge and appliances to match. Their counters are black with little pieces of what looks like diamonds in them. “If you want something from the fridge or pantry, feel free. Don’t feel like you have to ask. ”

  Next, I follow him up a flight of carpeted stairs. “Any questions so far?” he asks.

  “Got a map of this place?” I ask.

  He chuckles. “You’ll get used to the layout in a couple of days. ”

  Wanna bet?

  I feel a big, pounding headache coming on and I long to be somewhere where I don’t have to pretend to be a reformed kid living in a minimansion with a girl who put cookie magnets in my locker and a little runt who thinks all Mexicans play soccer.

  Upstairs, at the end of long hallway, is the parents’ bedroom. We turn the corner and Westford points to one of the rooms. “That’s Kiara’s room. The door across the hall, next to Brandon’s room, is the bathroom you’ll share with the kids. ” I peek inside the bathroom, which has two side-by-side sinks.

  He opens the door next to Kiara’s room and gestures me inside. “This is your room. ”

  I scan what will be my bedroom. The walls are painted yellow, with polka-dotted drapes hanging from the windows. It looks like a damn girl’s room. I wonder if I stay here long enough I’ll be forced to hand in my Man Card. There’s a desk on one side with a closet next to it, a dresser on the other side of the room, and a bed with a yellow blanket next to the window.

  “I know it’s not the most masculine room. My wife decorated it a while back,” Westford says, looking apologetic. “It was supposed to be her porcelai
n-doll room. ”

  Is he kiddin’ me? Porcelain-doll room? What the hell are porcelain dolls, and why would an adult want a room full of ’em? Maybe it’s a rich-white-people thing, ’cause I don’t know any Mexican families who have a bedroom just for their damn dolls.

  “I figure we can get some paint and make this room a little more guy friendly,” he says.

  My eyes focus on the polka-dotted curtains. “It’ll take a lot more than paint,” I mumble. “But it don’t matter, ’cause I’m not plannin’ on hangin’ around here much. ”

  “Well, I guess now is a good time to go over house rules. ” My temporary guardian settles into the chair by the desk.

  “Rules?” A feeling of dread washes over me.

  “Don’t worry, I only have a few. But I do expect them to be followed. First off, no drugs or alcohol. As you already know, marijuana isn’t hard to find in this city, but you have to stay clean per court order. Second, no profanity. I have a six-year-old who is very impressionable, and I don’t need him hearing cuss words. Third, curfew on weekdays is midnight, on weekends it’s two. Fourth, you’re expected to clean up after yourself and help around the house when asked, just like our own children. Fifth, there’s no TV unless you’re done with homework. Sixth, if you bring a girl up to your room you must keep the door open . . . for obvious reasons. ” He rubs his chin, seemingly searching for more rules to spout. “I think that’s it. Any questions?”

  “Yeah, one. ” I shove my hands in my pockets, wondering how long it’ll take for Professor Dick to realize I’m antirules. Of any kind. “What happens when I break one of your fuckin’ rules?”



  I don’t know if anyone else in my family noticed, but Carlos looked at us like we were a bunch of aliens sent down to earth to destroy him. He definitely isn’t happy about having to live with us.

  I wonder what he’s going to say when they tell him he’ll either be expelled or have to go to the REACH program after school. REACH is for at-risk teens who get in trouble. They can attend school on a probationary basis. My dad told me Carlos doesn’t know that REACH is his only choice. I do not want to be in the house when Alex and my dad give him the news.

  Alex is checking out the new rearview mirror I just installed. Not being able to resist, Alex lifts up the hood and inspects the engine.

  “It’s a standard V8,” I tell Brittany, who’s standing beside him.

  Alex laughs. “That won’t mean anythin’ to my girlfriend. Brittany doesn’t even like to pump gas. ”

  Brittany punches him lightly on the arm. “Are you kidding me? Every time I even try to fix something with my car, Alex totally takes over. Admit it, Alex. ”

  “Mamacita, no offense, but you wouldn’t know a gasket from an alternator. ”

  “And you wouldn’t know acrylic from gel,” Brittany says smugly, her hands on her hips.

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