Rules of attraction, p.14
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       Rules of Attraction, p.14

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 14


  “Where you goin’ all dressed up?” I joke.

  She clears her throat, like she’s stalling. “Jogging,” she says.

  “For what?”

  “Exercise. You . . . can come. ”

  “Nah. ” I’ve always had the theory that people who exercise are white-collar stiffs, ’cause most of their day is spent sitting on their asses. She starts to walk away, but I call her back. “Kiara, wait. ” She turns around. “Tell Tuck to stay out of my way. And about your shower-time schedule . . . ”

  I’m gonna let her know how it is, let her know who’s boss here. Her father might try and dictate rules I have no intention of keepin’, but nobody, especially not a gringa, dictates when I can take a shower. I cross my arms over my chest and tell her straight up, “I don’t do schedules. ”

  “Well, I d-do, so get used t-to it,” she says, then turns away from me and heads straight for the stairs.

  I stay in my room until morning, when the Professor’s voice bellows through the door. “Carlos, if you’re not up, you’d better get a move on. We’re leaving in a half hour. ”

  When I hear his footsteps retreat, I crawl out of bed and head to the bathroom. I open the door and find Brandon brushing his teeth. He’s getting toothpaste all over our sink and his mouth, and he looks like he’s got rabies.

  “Hurry up, cachorro. I gotta take a leak. ”

  “I don’t know what cha-cha-cho-ro-ro means. ”

  The kid isn’t fluent in Spanish, that’s for sure. “Good,” I say. “You’re not supposed to. ”

  Brandon finishes up while I lean against the doorway. I hear Kiara’s door open. She walks out of her room, all dressed. Well, you can’t exactly call it dressed. She’s got her hair up in her signature ponytail, a yellow T-shirt with the word ADVENTURELAND on it, baggy brown shorts, and hiking boots.

  One look at me and her eyes go all wide and her face gets all red. She looks away.

  “Ha, ha, ha!” Brandon laughs, pointing to my boxer briefs. I look down to make sure I don’t have my own perky private showing. “Kiara saw your underpants! Kiara saw your underpants!” he sings.

  She walks downstairs and is out of sight within seconds.

  I narrow my eyes at Brandon. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re an annoyin’ little shit sometimes?”

  Brandon’s hand flies to his mouth and he sucks in a breath. “You said a bad word. ”

  I’m internally rolling my eyes. I’m definitely gonna have to start speakin’ Spanish around this kid so he has no clue what I’m saying. Or beat this kid at his own game. “I did not. I said you were an annoyin’ little spit. ”

  “No, you didn’t. You said shit. ”

  My hand flies to my mouth and I gasp. I point at him and wiggle my finger just like a two-year-old and say, “You just said a bad word. ”

  “You said it first, Carlos,” he argues. “I was just saying what you said. ”

  “I said spit. You said somethin’ that rhymed with it. I’m tellin’. ” I open my mouth to tattle. I’m not really gonna do it, but the little diablo doesn’t know that.

  “Don’t tell. Please. ”

  “Fine. I’ll give you a free pass. This time. See, now we’re partners in crime. ”

  He furrows his little eyebrows. “I don’t know what that means. ”

  “It means we don’t tattle on each other. ”

  “But what if you do something bad?”

  “Then you keep your mouth shut. ”

  “And if I do something bad?”

  “Then I don’t tell. ”

  He seems to consider this for a minute. “So if you see me eat all of the cookies in the pantry?”

  “I won’t say a word. ”

  “And if I don’t feel like brushing my teeth?”

  I shrug. “You can go to school with rotten breath and cavities for all I care. ”

  Brandon smiles wide and holds out his hand. “You’ve got yourself a deal, my man. ”

  My man? As I watch Brandon trot back to his room, I wonder if I just outwitted the kid or if he just outwitted me.



  So it’s no secret what Carlos wears to bed. His boxers. That’s it. I had to look away when I was upstairs in the hallway, because I was staring. He’s got more tattoos than the ones on his bicep and forearm. He’s got a small one on his chest in the shape of a snake, and when my gaze dropped I caught a glimpse of letters in red and black peeking out of his briefs. While I’m fascinated to know what they all mean and why he got them, there’s no way I’m going to ask.

  My mom left over an hour ago to open her store. It’s my turn to make breakfast for everyone. My dad is wolfing down the eggs and toast I just set on his plate. I know he’s expecting Alex in a few minutes and is probably going through the speech he and Alex are going to give Carlos this morning.

  I definitely don’t want to be here for that talk, and am kind of feeling guilty for challenging Carlos last night. The last thing he needs right now is another person he thinks is against him.

  “Dad,” I say as I sit down next to him at the breakfast counter. “What are you going to tell him?”

  “The truth. That after the judge confirms temporary custody, I hope they’ll let him register for the REACH program instead of serving time. ”

  “He’s not going to like it. ”

  “He doesn’t have a choice. ” My dad pats me on the hand. “Don’t worry, it’ll all work out. ”

  “How do you know?” I ask.

  “Because deep down I suspect he wants to clean up his life, and the judge wants to keep kids in school. To be honest, I’m not sure Carlos even knows how much he wants to succeed yet. ”

  “He’s kind of a jerk. ”

  “It’s a cover-up for something deeper. I know he’s definitely going to be a challenge. ” He cocks his head to the side and gives me a thoughtful look. “You sure you’re okay with him staying here?”

  I think of myself in his situation and wonder if anyone would try to help me. Isn’t that why we’re put on this earth to begin with, to make it a better place? It’s not a religious quest; it’s a humanitarian one.

  If Carlos can’t stay here, who knows where he’ll end up. “I’m totally fine with him here,” I say. “Really. ” My dad, with his psychology background and infinite patience, will be able to help Carlos. And my mom . . . well, if you can see past her quirks, she’s great.

  “Brandon, where’s Carlos?” my dad asks when my brother comes bouncing down the stairs.

  “I don’t know. I think he was in the shower. ”

  “All right. Well, get some breakfast in you. Your bus’ll be here in ten minutes. ”

  When we hear the upstairs water turn off, indicating Carlos is out of the shower, it’s my dad’s cue. “Bran, get your backpack. The bus will be here any second. ”

  As my dad urges Brandon out of the house to catch the bus, I scramble a couple of eggs for Carlos.

  I hear him coming down the stairs before I see him. He’s wearing dark blue jeans ripped in the knees, and a black T-shirt that looks overworn and overwashed . . . but I can just imagine is totally soft and comfortable.

  “Here,” I mumble, placing the eggs and toast neatly on the table with a glass of fresh-squeezed juice.

  “Gracias. ” He sits down slowly, obviously surprised I made him breakfast.

  As he eats, I load the dishwasher and busy myself with taking out the lunches my mom packed for us. When my dad comes back a few minutes later, he’s accompanied by Alex.

  “Mornin’, brother,” Alex says as he sits beside Carlos. “Ready for court?”

  “No. ”

  I grab my car keys and backpack, so they can be alone. As I drive to school, I wonder if maybe I should have stayed as a buffer. Because three guys together, especially if two are very strong-willed Fuentes brothers, might be a dangerous mix. Especially when one of them is about to be forced to enroll in
an after-school program for delinquents. I guarantee when they tell him, Carlos will go ballistic.

  My poor father doesn’t stand a chance.



  “So what’re you doin’ here?” I ask my brother again.

  I look at Westford, a cup of coffee in his hand. Something is definitely up.

  “Alex wanted to be here when we discuss what will happen today. We’re going to ask the judge to release you into my custody in exchange for your cooperation and participation in a special after-school program. ”

  I look at my food, half uneaten, and toss my fork down. “I thought we were just goin’ to court and I was goin’ to be released into your custody. Now I feel like I’m at a firin’ range about to be blindfolded and given my last cigarette. ”

  “It’s not really a big deal,” Alex says. “It’s called REACH. ”

  Westford sits across from me. “It’s a special program for at-risk teens. ”

  I look to Alex to give it to me in plain English.

  Alex clears his throat. “It’s for kids who’ve been in trouble with the law, Carlos. You’ll go there right after school. Every day,” he adds.

  Are they kiddin’ me? “I told you the drugs weren’t mine. ”

  Westford puts his mug down on the table. “Then tell me who the drugs belong to. ”

  “I don’t have a name. ”

  “Not good enough,” Westford says.

  “It’s a code of silence,” Alex says.

  Westford doesn’t understand. “A code of silence?”

  Alex looks up. “I know a member of the Guerreros del barrio,” he says. “A code of silence protects all members. He won’t talk, even if he knows who was responsible. ”

  Westford sighs. “A code of silence doesn’t help your brother any, but I get it. I don’t want to get it, but I do. And that leaves us no choice but to ask the judge to let Carlos enter the REACH program. It’s a good program, Carlos, and it beats getting kicked out of school or stuck in juvenile detention. You’ll get your high school diploma and be able to apply to colleges. ”

  “I’m not goin’ to college. ”

  “Then what are you going to do after high school?” Westford asks. “And don’t tell me deal drugs, ’cause that’s a cop out. ”

  “What do you know, Dick? It’s easy for you to sit here in your bigass house and eat your organic shitty food. When you’ve walked a day in my shoes, you can lecture me. Until then, I don’t want to hear it. ”

  “Miamá wants us to have a better life than she did,” Alex says. “Do it for her. ”

  “whatever,” I say as I put my dishes in the sink. I’ve definitely lost my appetite. “All right, let’s get this shit over with. ”

  Westford picks up his briefcase and breathes a sigh of relief. “You ready, boys?”

  I close my eyes and rub my palms over them. I guess it’s wishful thinking that I’d open them and magically be in Chicago. “You don’t really want me to answer that, do you?”

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