Rules of attraction, p.19
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       Rules of Attraction, p.19

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 19


  My insides are going nuts. My heart is beating furiously and there’s a crackling energy in the air that wasn’t there before I leaned close to her.

  What’s going on? The altitude must be screwing with my head. I need to change the subject fast and direct the conversation away from anything sexual. “So what’s the deal with your stutterin’?” I ask.



  My pencil immediately stops moving. I try and concentrate on my calculus equation, but I can’t focus on anything on the page. Nobody who wasn’t a speech therapist has ever come right out and asked me about my stuttering before. I’m not prepared to answer, especially because I don’t know why I stutter. It’s just who I am, how I was born, and everything in between.

  Before Carlos asked about my stuttering, all I could think about was our almost-kiss. His hot breath seared my skin and made my stomach do flips. But he was just teasing me. I knew it and he knew it. So as much as I wanted desperately to turn my head and find out what his lips felt like on mine, I didn’t want to humiliate myself.

  I shove everything into my backpack, then sling the bag onto my back and head down the mountain.

  I walk fast, hoping he’ll fall far enough behind he’ll have to concentrate on keeping up and not ask more questions. I made a huge mistake by bringing him here. It was impulsive and stupid. Worst of all, I didn’t expect to want to kiss him more than anything in this world right before he confronted me about my stuttering.

  I cross the bridge over Boulder Creek and head for my car. I reach in my backpack for my keys, but then realize Carlos still has them. I hold my hand out.

  He doesn’t give me the keys. Instead he leans against the car. “I’ll make you a deal. ”

  “I don’t make deals. ”

  “Everyone makes deals, Kiara. Even smart girls who stutter. ”

  I can’t believe he brought it up again. I turn and head for home on foot. Carlos better drive my car back, because they’ll tow it if it’s parked there all night.

  I hear Carlos swear again. “Come back here,” he says.

  I keep walking.

  I hear my car tires spin on the gravel behind me. Carlos drives up next to me. He’s got his shirt back on, which is good because I get distracted when he’s half naked.

  “Get in, Kiara. ”

  As I keep walking, he inches the car forward. “You’re gonna get in an accident,” I say.

  “Do I look like I give a shit?”

  I glance in his direction. “No. But I do. I love my car. ”

  Someone beeps at him from behind. He doesn’t flinch and keeps the car moving slowly beside me. At the first bend in the road, he screeches ahead of me and cuts me off. “Don’t test me,” he says. “If you don’t get in right now, I’m comin’ out there to get you. ” We stare each other down, the muscle in the side of his jaw twitching in determination. “If you get in, I’ll wash your car. ”

  “I just washed it. ”

  “I’ll do your chores for a week, then,” he says.

  “I don’t . . . I don’t mind doing chores,” I tell him.

  “I’ll let your brother get a goal off of me and I’ll play with his G. I. Joe dolls. ”

  Every day Brandon has been trying to get a goal off of Carlos, with no luck. My little brother would love to beat Carlos. “Fine,” I say. “But I drive. ”

  He slides over the center console and hops in the passenger seat while I get behind the wheel. When I glance at him, I can’t help but notice the look of triumph on his face.

  “You know what your problem is?” I’m not surprised he doesn’t wait for me to respond before he goes into his assessment of me. “You make everythin’ a big deal. Take kissin’, for example. You probably think if you kiss someone it’s supposed to mean somethin’ monumental. ”

  “I don’t just go around kissing people for fun like you. ”

  “Why not? Kiara, didn’t anyone tell you that life is supposed to be fun?”

  “I have fun in other ways. ”

  “Oh, please,” he says in total disbelief. “You ever smoke weed?”

  I shake my head.

  “Take Ecstasy?”

  My top lip curls in disgust.

  “Have wild sex on top of a mountain?” he questions.

  “You have a demented view of fun, Carlos. ”

  He shakes his head. “Okay, chica. What do you consider fun? Walkin’ up mountains? Doin’ your homework? Watchin’ Madison make fun of you in class? I heard about that, you know. ”

  I pull off the side of the road, my poor tires screeching to a stop. “Being rude . . . doesn’t make y-y-you . . . ” I’m about to get caught up on my words. I swallow, then take a deep breath. I hope the panic and frustration doesn’t show as I stumble over my words. I know when it’s coming, but I can’t stop it. “. . . tough. ”

  “I’m not aimin’ for tough, Kiara. See, you pegged me all wrong. My goal is to be an asshole. ” He flashes me a big, cocky smile.

  I shake my head in frustration and steer the car back on the road. At home, I find Dad playing with Brandon in the backyard.

  “Where have you two been?” my dad asks.

  “Kiara took me hikin’,” Carlos says. “Right, K. ?”

  “A little practice?” my dad asks me, then explains to Carlos, “We’re going on a family camping trip. ”

  “Dick, I don’t hike or camp. ”

  “But he does play soccer. ” I tilt my head and smile. “Didn’t you tell me you were dying to play with Brandon?”

  “I almost forgot,” Carlos says, the cocky grin gone.

  “Oh, that’s great,” my dad says, patting Carlos on the back. “It’ll mean so much to him. Bran, you ready to play soccer with Carlos?”

  We all look over at my brother, hurrying to set up the goal. “Awesome! Carlos, I’m gonna beat you today. ”

  “Don’t count on it, muchacho. ” Carlos kicks the ball and starts bouncing it up and down on his knees like a soccer pro. No matter what he claimed before, he’s definitely played a lot.

  “I was practicing with my dad,” Bran calls out. “I’m ready for you. ”

  Practice or not, my little brother doesn’t stand a chance against Carlos unless he purposely lets him win. I can’t wait to see the triumph in my brother’s face as he sails the ball past Carlos and scores a goal. I sit on the patio and watch as they warm up.

  “Don’t you have homework to do or somethin’?” Carlos asks.

  I shake my head.

  He’s definitely trying to challenge me in this little game of who’s going to get the upper hand. “I think I see some weeds that you missed on your side,” he says.

  “Kiara, come play with us!” Brandon cries out.

  “She’s busy,” Carlos says.

  Brandon looks at me in confusion. “She’s just sitting watching us. How can she be busy?”

  Carlos has the ball under his arm now.

  “I’ll just watch,” I say.

  “Come on,” Brandon says, then runs over to me. He takes my hand and pulls me until I get up. “Play with us. ”

  “Maybe she doesn’t know how to play,” Carlos says to my brother.

  “Sure she does. Give her the ball. ”

  Carlos kicks it to me in the air. I dribble it on my knees, then bounce it off my head back to him. The guy looks stunned. And impressed. In a rare diva moment, I brush invisible dust off my shoulders.

  “Surprise, surprise, Kiara can dribble,” Carlos says as he positions himself in front of the goal. “You’ve been holdin’ out on me. Let’s see you try and get it past me. ”

  When I have the ball back, I kick it to Brandon. He kicks it back, then I whack it toward the goal.

  Okay, so I’m not really surprised Carlos intercepted it with hardly any effort. But now he’s brushing invisible dust off his shoulders like I did and I’m sorry I didn’t get it to sail past him. “Want a second chance?” he as

  “Maybe another day,” I tell him. I’m not sure if I’m talking about that almost-kiss or about soccer.

  Carlos’s eyebrows go up, and I think he realizes my words have double meaning. “I’ll look forward to the challenge. ”

  “My turn!” Brandon screams.

  Carlos sets himself in front of the goal and leans over, deep in concentration. “You get three chances, but face the fact, Brandon. You’re just not good enough. ”

  Immediately, my brother’s tongue shoots out the side of his mouth. He’s deep in competitive/concentration mode. I’m sure when he gets older he’ll give Carlos a run for his money.

  My brother sets the ball down and takes five steps back, counting each one. He kneels down as if he’s a golfer lining up his shot. Is Carlos going to let him win? I’ve had no signal or sign from him that our little agreement is still on, and he looks determined to stop my brother’s ball.

  “Give up now, cachorro. You’ll never get it past me, and then afterward you’re going to call me the All-Powerful-Master-Goalie, the one, the only . . . Carlos Fuentes!”

  His taunting makes my brother even more determined; his lips are pressed tight and his hands are balled at his sides. He kicks the ball as hard as a six-year-old can, even grunting as his foot connects with the ball. It flies in the air.

  Carlos flies in the air to catch it . . .

  And misses by an inch. Even better, Carlos falls and rolls to his back as he comes crashing to the ground.

  I’ve never seen a more triumphant expression on my brother’s face. “I did it!” he screams. “I did it! On the first try, even!” He runs over to me and gives me a huge high five, then jumps on Carlos’s back. “I did it! I did it!”

  Carlos groans. “You ever hear of a sore winner?”

  “No. ” Brandon leans down to Carlos’s ear. “This means you get to play G. I. Joe with me tonight!”

  “Can we do a rematch?” Carlos asks. “Like two out of three. Or three out of five?”

  “No way, José. ”

  “My name’s Carlos, not José,” Carlos says, but Brandon isn’t listening. He’s running inside the house to tell my parents that he beat Carlos.

  Carlos is still on the ground when I kneel beside him. “What do you want?” he asks.

  “To say thanks. ”

  “For what?”

  “Holding up your end of the bargain by letting Brandon beat you. You pretty much succeed in being a jerk most of the time, but you’ve got potential. ”

  “To be what?”

  I shrug. “A decent human being. ”



  After dinner, I dig up the cell phone and call Luis and miamá.

  “¿Te estás ocupando de Mamá?” I ask my little brother.

  “Sí. I’m takin’ care of her. ”

  Loud pounding on my door reminds me that I lost the competition this afternoon. “It’s G. I. Joe time, Carlos!” Brandon’s voice bellows through the door.

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