Rules of attraction, p.13
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       Rules of Attraction, p.13

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 13


  The guy steps forward. “Yo, yo, wassup homie!” he says.

  I wonder what Professor Dick would say if I kicked Kiara’s boyfriend’s ass on my first day here. He never said one of the rules was not getting into fights.

  I narrow my eyes at the guy and step forward.

  Kiara quickly rummages through her desk and pulls out another notebook. She pushes it into my hand. “Here,” she says, alarm laced in her voice.

  I look down at the notebook I didn’t need, annoyed that I’m feeling like a jalapeño stuck in a bowl of mixed nuts . . . somewhere I don’t belong and definitely not a good mix.

  I murmur a “Catch you later . . . homie,” and head back to the canary yellow room I am officially dubbing infierno, hell.

  Looking out the window, I gauge how far it is to the ground so I can escape every once in a while and get a small taste of freedom. One day I might just escape and never look back.

  “Carlos, can I come in?” I hear Brittany’s voice say through the bedroom door.

  When I open the door, I find my brother’s girlfriend alone. “If you’re gonna lecture me, save your breath,” I tell her.

  “I’m not here to lecture you,” she says, her bright blue eyes shining with compassion. She weasels her way past me and enters the room. “And although I’m sure your friends back home might appreciate details of your sexual prowess, bragging about it in front of a six-year-old and his parents probably isn’t the best idea. ”

  I hold my hand up, stopping her from continuing. “Before you go on, I gotta be honest and say that sounds suspiciously like a lecture to me. ”

  She laughs. “You’re right. Sorry about that. Truth is, I came up here to give you the cell phone. I know you and Alex are like oil and water sometimes, so I’m here if you want to talk to someone a little less hardheaded. I programmed both our numbers into the contacts list. ” She places the phone on the desk.

  Oh, no. I feel her trying to get close to me like the sister I never had, but it ain’t happenin’. I don’t get close, so I decide to go for the asshole route. It actually comes naturally to me; it’s not even an act anymore. “You flirtin’ with me? I thought you were datin’ my brother. Honestly, Brittany, I don’t date white chicas. Especially ones with blond hair and skin the color of Elmer’s Glue. Did’ja ever hear of a tannin’ salon?”

  Okay, the Elmer’s Glue comment was a little over-the-top. Brittany has a golden glow to her skin, but insulting her will push her away. I’ve done it with miamá. And Luis. And Alex. It never fails.

  I make a big show of opening the desk drawer and dumping the phone inside.

  “You’re going to want that one day,” she says. “I have no doubt you’ll call me. ”

  I give a short laugh. “You have no clue who I am or what I’ll do. ”

  “Wanna bet?”

  I step forward, invading her personal space so she’ll back up and know I mean business. “Don’t piss me off, bitch. In Mexico I was hangin’ with gangbangers. ”

  She doesn’t back down. Instead, she says, “My boyfriend was in a gang, Carlos. And neither of you scare me. ”

  “Did anyone tell you you’d be a perfect mamacita to prove the dumb-blond theory?”

  Instead of cowering in fear or getting furious, she steps forward and kisses my cheek. “I forgive you,” she says, then backs out of the room and leaves me alone.

  “I didn’t ask for your forgiveness. Or want it,” I say back, but she’s already gone.



  “I don’t think he wanted paper,” Tuck says as he straddles my desk chair. “He was snooping. Believe me, I know snooping when I see it. ”

  I sigh and sit on my bed. “Did you have to bait Carlos with all that ‘yo, yo, homie’ talk?” Sometimes Tuck just talks to amuse himself. I don’t think Carlos appreciated Tuck’s humor.

  “Sorry, I couldn’t help it. He thinks he’s so tough I wanted to bring him down a peg. ” Tuck’s face perks up. “I’ve got a great idea. Let’s snoop back. ”

  I shake my head. “No way. Besides, he’s probably in his room. ”

  “Maybe he’s back downstairs with the rest of your family. We won’t know unless we check. ”

  “That’s a bad idea. ”

  “Oh, come on,” he moans like my brother does when he doesn’t get his way. “Let’s have some fun. I’m bored and I have to leave soon. ”

  Before I have time to digest what Tuck is about to do, he disappears into the hall. I hear his footsteps creak as he steps toward Carlos’s room. Oh, no. This is definitely not good. Not good at all. I grab Tuck’s arm and try to pull him back, but he doesn’t budge. I should know better. When Tuck is on a mission, nothing can stop him. He’s kind of like my dad that way.

  Carlos’s door is open a crack. Tuck peers inside. “I don’t see him,” Tuck says.

  “That’s ’cause I was takin’ a piss,” Carlos says from behind me.

  Oh. No. We’re. Busted.

  I suck in a breath at being caught, and pinch Tuck. This stunt really wasn’t one of his brightest ideas. I wonder if Carlos will retaliate with a cookie stunt of his own.

  “We were just, uh, wondering how Kiara’s notebook was working out for you,” Tuck says, not the least bit embarrassed at getting caught and just making up stuff off the top of his head. “Or do you need loose-leaf? ’Cause we could scrounge up some of that if you need it. ”

  “Uh-huh,” Carlos says.

  Tuck holds out his hand. “By the way, I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Tuck. You know, rhymes with luck. ”

  “And fuck,” Carlos adds.

  “Yep, that, too,” Tuck says, unfazed. He points to Carlos with a big, cocky smile. “You are quick with the comebacks, amigo. ”

  Carlos flicks Tuck’s finger away. “I’m not your amigo, asshole. ”

  Tuck’s cell phone rings. He slides it out of his pants and says, “I’ll be right there,” then shrugs and says to me, “Well, I’m outta here. My stepdad, Rick, is making me and Mom go to some stupid rope-knotting class. Kiara, I’ll see you in school tomorrow. ” He turns to Carlos. “See you ’round, amigo. ”

  Tuck is out of sight in an instant, leaving me standing with Carlos in the hallway. He steps in front of me. When Carlos has his attention fixed on me, it’s very intimidating, whether he intends it or not. He’s like a panther ready to pounce, or a vampire ready to suck the blood out of anyone who stands in his way.

  “By the way, I didn’t need paper. Your boy Tuck was right on. I was snoopin’. ” He walks back to his room, but turns to me before he closes the door. “These walls are paper thin. You might want to remember that the next time you and your boyfriend talk about me,” he says, then slams his door shut.



  In the evening, I’m summoned to the Professor’s home office. I expect his wrath. Honestly, I want his wrath. If he or that judge at the juvie courthouse thought bringin’ me here would reform me or change me, guess again. It’s pure instinct that makes me rebel every time someone tries to control my life and hand out more rules.

  Professor Westford tents his fingers and leans forward in his chair, which is facing the small couch I’m sitting on. “What do you want, Carlos?” he asks.

  Huh? I’m caught off guard here. I didn’t expect him to say that. I want to go back to Mexico and continue living my life on my terms. Or go back to Chicago, where my friends and cousins I grew up with are . . . I sure as hell can’t tell him I’d like to bring mi papá back from the dead.

  Westford sighs when I don’t answer. “I know you’re a tough kid,” he says. “Alex told me you got into some heavy stuff in Mexico. ”


  “So I just want you to know that you can create a new life here, Carlos. You started off on the wrong foot, but you can wipe the slate clean and start new. Alex and your mother want the best for you. ”

, Dick. Alex doesn’t know me. ”

  “Your brother knows you better than you think he does. And you’re more alike than you want to believe. ”

  “You just met me. You don’t know me, either. And to be honest, I don’t have much respect for you. You opened your home to a guy who got arrested for drugs. How come you’re not afraid of havin’ me here?”

  “You’re not the first kid I’ve helped, and you won’t be the last,” he assures me. “And I should probably let you know that before I got my doctorate in psychology I was in the military. I saw more death and guns and bad guys than you’ll ever see in your life. I might have gray hair on my head, but I’m just as tough as you are when I have to be. I think we can work together. Now, let’s get back to why I called you down here. What is it that you want?”

  I better say somethin’ to get him off my back. “To go back to Chicago. ”

  Westford leans back. “Okay. ”

  “What’dya mean ‘okay’?”

  He puts his hands up. “I mean ‘okay. ’ You follow my house rules until winter break, and I’ll get you to Chicago for a visit. I promise. ”

  “I don’t believe in promises. ”

  “Well, I do. And I don’t break them. Ever. Now, enough serious talk for tonight. Relax and make yourself at home. Watch some TV if you want. ”

  Instead, I head straight for polka-dot hell. When I pass Brandon’s room the kid is sitting on the floor, wearing pajamas with little baseballs, mitts, and bats splattered all over them. The little kid is playing with plastic soldiers. He looks all innocent and happy. It’s easy for him—he hasn’t been exposed to the real world.

  The real world sucks.

  As soon as he sees me, he smiles wide. “Hey, Carlos, wanna play soldiers?”

  “Not tonight. ”

  “Tomorrow night?” he asks, hope filling his voice.

  “I don’t know. ”

  “What does that mean?”

  “It means ask me tomorrow and I might have a different answer. ” On second thought, “Get your sister to play with you. ”

  “She just did. Now it’s your turn. ”

  My turn? This kid has serious delusions if he thinks that I actually want a turn. “Tell you what. After school tomorrow I’ll play soccer with you. If you can get one goal off me, I’ll play soldiers with you. ”

  The kid looks confused. “I thought you didn’t play soccer. ”

  “I lied. ”

  “You’re not s’posed to do that. ”

  “Yeah, well, when you’re a teenager you’ll be doin’ it all the time. ”

  He shakes his head. “I don’t think so. ”

  I chuckle. “Call me when you’re sixteen. I guarantee you’ll have a different opinion,” I say, then head for my room. Kiara is in the hallway. Her ponytail is loose, and most of her hair has managed to escape. I’ve never met any girl who cares less about her appearance.

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