Rules of attraction, p.15
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       Rules of Attraction, p.15

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 15


  A half smile crosses his face. “Not really. And you’re right, I haven’t walked in your shoes. But you haven’t walked in mine, either. ”

  “Come on, Professor. I’d bet my left nut the biggest problem you’ve faced is decidin’ on what country club to belong to. ”

  “I wouldn’t make that bet if I were you,” he says as we walk out of the house. “We don’t even belong to a country club. ”

  When we reach his car, or what I think is his car, I step back. “What is this?”

  “A Smart Car. ”

  It looks like an SUV took a dump and out came the Smart Car. I wouldn’t be surprised if Westford had said it was one of those toy cars that kids drive around.

  “It’s fuel-efficient. My wife drives the SUV, and since I’m just driving to work and back, this was a perfect choice. If you want to drive it, you can. ”

  “Or you could come in my car,” Alex says.

  “No thanks,” I say as I open the door to the Smart Car and climb into the little passenger seat. It doesn’t seem as tiny on the inside, but I still feel like I’m in a miniature spaceship.

  It takes less than an hour for the judge to grant the Professor temporary guardianship and approve my participation in REACH instead of my being sentenced to either juvie or community service. Alex leaves because he’s got a test, so it’s up to my new guardian to register me at REACH and then drive me to school.

  REACH is held in a brown brick building a few blocks from the high school. After waiting in the lobby, we’re brought into the director’s office.

  A big, tall white guy who probably weighs close to three hundred pounds greets us. “I’m Ted Morrisey, the director here at REACH. And you must be Carlos. ” He flips through a file and says, “Tell me why you’re here. ”

  “Judge’s orders,” I tell him.

  “It says here in my file you got arrested last Friday for school drug possession. ” He looks up. “That’s a serious offense. ”

  Only ’cause I got caught. The problem is, I’m Mexican with gang affiliations. There’s no way this guy is gonna believe I was framed. I’m sure he’s heard “I didn’t do it” from most of the kids here. I’ll find out who framed me . . . and in the end I’ll get revenge.

  For the next half hour, Morrisey recites The Lecture. To sum it up, it’s about me having control of my destiny and future. This is my last chance. If I want to succeed, the REACH program will help give me the tools to “REACH my potential,” yadda yadda. When I graduate the program, the career counselors are dedicated to helping every REACH graduate secure either a job or entrance to a school of higher education. I have to stop myself from pretending to snore a couple of times, and I wonder how Westford can sit here and listen to Morrisey’s bullshit with a straight face.

  “And just so you’re aware,” Morrisey says as he pulls out a student handbook and goes through each page, “we’ll be doing random drug tests on all REACH students throughout the year. If we find an illegal substance in your system or on your person at any time, your guardian will be notified and you’ll be kicked out of REACH and expelled from school. Permanently. Most teens end up locked up for any violations. ”

  Morrisey hands both Westford and me a copy of the REACH rules. Then he folds his hands on his big belly and smiles, but that smile doesn’t fool me. He’s a hard-ass who takes no prisoners. “Any questions?” he asks, his voice even . . . but I have no doubt that voice can bellow commands louder than any drill sergeant.

  The Professor looks to me, then says, “I think we’re good. ”

  “Great. Then we have one more piece of business before you can go back to school. ” He slides a piece of paper toward us. “This is a responsibility contract stating that I’ve gone through the REACH rules, that you understand them, and you agree to abide by them. ”

  Leaning forward, I notice three signature lines. One for me, one for a parent or guardian, and one for a REACH staff member. The paper reads:

  I, _______________________, certify that by signing below I agree to abide by the rules outlined in the REACH Handbook. I understand the rules, which have been properly explained to me by a REACH staff member. I further acknowledge that if I disregard the rules for any reason I will be subject to disciplinary action which may include in-house detention, additional counseling, and/or expulsion from the REACH program.

  What it really means:

  I, __________________, sign my freedom over to REACH staff. By signing this piece of paper, I certify that my life will be dictated by other people and I’ll live a miserable existence while I’m in Colorado.

  I don’t think too hard about it as I scribble my name on the sheet and slide it over so Westford can sign it, too. I just want to be done with it already, so I can move on. There’s no use trying to argue. After the paper is signed and tucked in my file, we’re ushered out and I’m ordered to report to REACH no later than three p. m. Monday through Friday, or I’ll be in violation.

  I figure I have so many rules stacked up, it’s only a matter of time until I violate one.



  I haven’t seen Carlos since school started. Everyone at school is buzzing about Friday’s drug bust, and wondering what happened to Flatiron High’s newest senior. I heard one person in the hallway say that Carlos spent the weekend in jail and didn’t make bond; another said he was deported for being an illegal alien. I keep quiet about Carlos coming to live with us, even though I’d like to tell everyone to shut up and stop spreading false rumors.

  At lunch, Tuck and I are sitting at our usual table.

  “I can’t be your male model on Friday,” he tells me.

  “Why not?”

  “My mom wants me to help with an adventure group she’s leading this weekend. They don’t have enough instructors. ”

  “The ladies at The Highlands are going to be crushed,” I tell him. When I told them they’d have two live models for our painting class, they got really excited. Even after I told them the models would be me and my friend Tuck, and no, we weren’t going to be in the nude but in costumes.

  “Get someone else to do it with you. ”

  “Like who?”

  “I got it!” he says. “Ask Carlos to be your partner. ”

  I shake my head. “No way. He’s seriously pissed about getting busted on Friday. I don’t think he’s in the mood to do favors for other people. Every time he challenges me I feel like I’m going to stutter. ”

  Tuck chuckles. “If no words come, you can always give him the finger. Guys like Carlos respond well to hand gestures. ”

  Just as he says it, Carlos walks in the cafeteria. Every single eye in the room turns to him.

  If I were Carlos, I’d avoid the lunchroom for at least a month. But I’m not Carlos. You’d think he didn’t notice everyone staring at him and whispering about the latest Carlos gossip. He walks straight over to the table he usually sits at, without an apology to anyone. I admire his confidence.

  None of the other guys acknowledges Carlos, until Ram slides over and invites Carlos to sit next to him. After that, the freak show seems to be over. Ram is a popular guy, and if Ram gives Carlos his approval, then suddenly getting busted doesn’t mean Carlos is an outcast after all.

  After lunch when Carlos is at his locker, I tap him on the shoulder. “Thanks for changing my combination back. ”

  “I didn’t do it to be nice,” he says. “I did it so I wouldn’t get busted and kicked out of school. ”

  When Carlos started here a week ago, he didn’t care whether he attended classes or got kicked out. Now that getting expelled is a real possibility, he’s fighting to stay here. I wonder if the threat of getting kicked out makes him want to stay more.



  Mr. Kinney, my assigned social worker, greets me in the REACH lobby after I sign in. In his office, he places a yellow piece of paper in front of me. My name is on the top, and four blank li
nes are below it.

  “What’s this?” I ask. I’ve already signed my life away; what more could they want?

  “A goal sheet. ”

  “A what?”

  “Goal sheet. ” Kinney hands me a pencil. “I want you to write down four goals you have. You don’t have to do it now. Think about it tonight, and hand it in tomorrow. ”

  I hand the sheet back to the guy. “I don’t got any goals. ”

  “Everyone has goals,” he tells me. “And if you don’t, you should. Goals help give your life direction and purpose. ”

  “Well, if I have any I’m not about to share ’em with you. ”

  “That attitude won’t get you anywhere,” Kinney says.

  “That’s good, because I don’t plan on goin’ anywhere. ”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m just livin’ in the moment, man. ”

  “Does living in the moment include going to jail on a drug charge?”

  I shake my head. “No. ”

  “Listen, Carlos. Every student in the REACH program is at-risk,” Kinney says. I follow him down a stark white hallway.

  “For what?”

  “Self-destructive behavior. ”

  “What makes you think you can fix me?”

  Kinney gives me a serious look. “Our goal is not to fix you, Carlos. We’ll supply you with the tools to reach your full potential, but the rest is up to you. Ninety percent of the students in our program end up graduating without a single violation. We’re very proud of that. ”

  “They only graduate because you force them to be here. ”

  “No. Believe it or not, it’s human nature to want to succeed. Some of the teens here are like you. They’ve gotten mixed up in gangs and drugs and need a safe after-school environment. And sometimes, just sometimes, it’s because teens don’t have the tools to deal with the stress of being a teenager. We give them a place where they can succeed and go on to reach their full potential. ”

  No wonder Alex was so excited for me to come here. He wants me to conform . . . graduate from high school, go to college, get a respectable job, then get married and have kids. But I’m not him. I wish everyone would stop treatin’ me as if my goal should be to live my life according to Alex.

  Kinney leads me to a room with six misfits sitting in a cozy little circle. A woman with a long, flowy skirt who reminds me of Mrs. Westford is sitting with them, a notebook resting on her lap.

  “This some kind of group therapy?” I quietly ask Kinney.

  “Mrs. Berger, this is Carlos,” Kinney says. “He just enrolled this morning. ”

  Berger smiles that same smile Morrisey flashed me in his office this morning. “Take a seat, Carlos,” she says. “During group therapy you can talk about anything that’s on your mind. Please, sit down. ”

  Oh, goodie! Group therapy! I can’t wait!

  I am seriously gonna puke.

  When Kinney leaves, Berger asks everyone to introduce themselves to me, as if I care what their names are.

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