Rules of attraction, p.20
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       Rules of Attraction, p.20

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 20


  “¿Quién es ése?”

  “The little kid who lives here. He reminds me of you sometimes. ”

  “He’s that good, huh?” Luis says, then laughs. “How’s Alex?”

  “Alex es buena gente. He’s the same. ”

  “Ma said you got in trouble. ”

  “Sí, but everything will be fine. ”

  “I hope so. ’Cause she’s savin’ up to come there for the winter. If I’m good, she said I can come, too. Podemos volver a ser familia, Carlos. Won’t that be great?”

  Yeah, it would be great if we could be a family again. A complete family to Luis is the four of us—me, Mamá, Alex, and Luis. Our papá was dead before Luis could talk. I never want kids, because I’d never want to leave behind a wife struggling to put food in my kids’ mouths or have my kids think a family is complete without me in the picture.

  Knock, knock, knock. Knock, knock, knock. “You in there?” Brandon yells again, this time his voice coming through the bottom of my bedroom door. I can see his lips through the tiny space between the door and carpet. I should open the door with no warning and see the little diablo scramble to his feet.

  “It’ll be great if you and Mamá can come here. Déjame hablar con Mamá. ”

  “She’s not home. Está trabajando—she’s at work. ”

  My heart wrenches. I don’t want her working, slaving away for almost no pay. I provided for the family when I was in Mexico. Now I’m going to school while she’s working like a dog. It doesn’t feel right.

  “Tell her I called. ¡Que no se te olvide!” I say, knowing my little brother is so busy havin’ fun with his friends he’s likely to forget I even called.

  “I won’t forget. I promise. ”

  We hang up as Brandon pounds on the door again. “Stop poundin’, you’re givin’ me a headache,” I say as I open the door.

  Brandon scrambles to his feet quicker than I’ve ever seen anyone move before in my life. If his swaying is any indication, I think he just got a head rush. Good.

  “Brandon,” Westford calls out as he walks by. “I told you not to bother Carlos. Why aren’t you in your room reading?”

  “I wasn’t bothering Carlos,” he says innocently. “He said he’d play G. I. Joe with me. Right, Carlos?” He looks up at me, his light green eyes practically begging.

  “Right,” I say to Westford. “Five minutes of G. I. Joe, then I’m done playing big brother. ”

  “Ten minutes,” Brandon shoots back.

  “Three,” I shoot right back. Two can play this game, kid.

  “No, no, no. Five’s fine. ”

  In his room, he pushes a doll in my hands. “Here!”

  “Kid, I hate to break the news to you, but I don’t usually play with dolls. ”

  He looks offended as he huffs loudly. “G. I. Joe isn’t a doll. He’s a marine, like my daddy was. ” Brandon pulls out miniature plastic soldiers from a bucket and places them around the room. You’d think the kid was making a random mess, but I’ve got a feeling there’s a method to his madness. “Didn’t you have a G. I. Joe when you were a kid?”

  I shake my head. I don’t remember having many toys . . . we pretty much played with sticks, rocks, and soccer balls. And the odd times Alex would sneak into my mother’s dresser, we’d make up the craziest games with rocks inside her panty hose. A few times we cut the legs off and made slingshots. Other times we filled them with water balloons and whacked each other. Alex and I did get our butts bruised by miamá a bunch of times for those incidents, but it didn’t matter. The punishments were worth it.

  “Well,” the kid says, getting serious. “The Cobras are the bad guys who want to take over the world. The G. I. Joes need to capture them. Got it?”

  “Yeah. Let’s get on with it already. ”

  Brandon holds his hands up. “Wait, wait, wait. You can’t be a G. I. Joe unless you have a code name. What’d you want your code name to be? Mine is Racer. ”

  “I’ll be Guerrero. ”

  He tilts his head to the side. “What does it mean?”

  “Warrior. ”

  He nods his approval. “Okay, Guerrero, our mission is to get Dr. Winky. ” Brandon faces me with big, round eyes. “Dr. Winky is the biggest, baddest, toughest bad guy on earth. Badder than Cobra Commander. ”

  “Can’t we change the name to something scarier? Sorry, but Dr. Winky doesn’t sound tough at all. ”

  “Oh, no, you can’t change the name. No way. ”

  “Why not?”

  “I like the name. Dr. Winky winks all the time. ”

  I can’t help but be amused by this kid. “Fine. So what did Dr. W. do that’s so bad?”

  “Dr. Winky,” Brandon corrects me. “Not. Dr. W. ”

  “Whatever. ” I hold up G. I. Joe and say to the plastic dude, “Joe, you ready to kick Dr. W. ’s butt?” I turn to Brandon. “Joe says he’s ready. ”

  Brandon perks up as if he’s on a secret mission. “Follow me,” he says, crawling across the room. “Come on!” he whispers loudly when he notices I haven’t followed.

  I crawl behind him, pretending I’m a six-year-old kid who has the patience to play this game.

  Brandon cups his hand over my ear and whispers, “I think Dr. Winky is hiding in the closet. Call in the troops. ”

  I look at the plastic miniature soldiers scattered all over the room, then say, “Troops, surround the closet. ”

  “You can’t be a G. I. Joe in your own voice. You have to sound like a marine,” Brandon says, obviously not impressed with my action hero role-playing skills.

  “Don’t push it, or I’m outta here,” I say.

  “Okay, okay. Don’t leave. You can be G. I. Joe in your own voice. ”

  Brandon and I set the miniature soldiers around the closet door. As long as I let myself get sucked into playing, I figure I might as well spice it up a bit. “Joe here told me he got some info on Dr. Winky. ”

  “What is it?” Brandon asks, totally getting into it.

  But now I’ve got to think of something fast. “Dr. Winky’s got a new weapon. If he winks at you, you’re dead. So make sure not to look directly at his eyes. ”

  “Okay!” Brandon says excitedly, reminding me of my little brother, Luis, who gets excited about the smallest things.

  Thinking of Luis makes me think of Mamá and how I rarely saw her smile these past few years. As much as I rebel, I’d do anything to make her smile again.



  I watch from the doorway as Carlos and my brother play with the toy soldiers. Carlos set up an elaborate scene with Brandon’s T-shirts as tunnels held up with string. One side is tied on his window latch and spans the entire length of Brandon’s room. The opposite end is attached to his closet handle.

  From his relaxed expression, I’d bet Carlos was having almost as much fun as my brother.

  My mom rubs my shoulder. “You okay?” she mouths.

  I nod.

  “I worry about you. ”

  “I’m fine. ” I think back to this afternoon, playing in the yard with Brandon and Carlos. I admit I had fun, too. I give her a huge hug. “More than fine. ”

  “They seem to be having fun,” she says, nodding to the war scene going on in Brandon’s room. “You think Carlos is warming up to the idea of living here?”

  “Maybe. ”

  “Five minutes was up a long time ago,” I hear Carlos say.

  My mom rushes into the room and picks up Brandon, heading off what’s sure to be an attempt at a typical Brandon negotiation tactic. “Time for bed, Bran. You’ve got school tomorrow. ” After she tucks him in, she asks, “You did brush your teeth, didn’t you?”

  “Yep,” my brother says, nodding. I notice he’s got his mouth totally closed when he nods. I’m guessing my brother isn’t telling the exact truth.

  “ ’Night, Racer,” Carlos says as he follows my mom out of the room.

  “ ’Night, Gu
errero. Kiara, since Carlos won’t tell me a story, can you sing me a song? Or play the letter game? Please,” Brandon begs me.

  “Which one?” I ask.

  “The letter game. ” My brother sits with his back to me and lifts up the back of his shirt.

  I’ve been playing this game with him since he was three. With my finger, I trace a letter on his back. He has to guess which letter I’m tracing.

  “A,” he says proudly.

  I trace another one.


  And another.

  “D . . . no, B! Am I right?”

  “Yep,” I tell him, then say, “Okay, one more. Then bedtime. ” I trace another letter.


  “Yep. ” I kiss him on the forehead and tuck him in one last time. “Love you,” I say.

  “Love you, too. Kiara?”


  “Tell Carlos I love him, too. I forgot to say it. ”

  “I will. Now go to sleep. ”

  In the hallway, Carlos is leaning against the wall. My mom has disappeared, probably to watch television in the family room with my dad.

  “I heard what he said, so you don’t need to tell me,” Carlos says. His usual cockiness is gone. He looks vulnerable, as if hearing Brandon say I love you broke down some emotional barrier he’s been holding up. He’s showing a glimpse of the real Carlos.

  “Okay. ” I look at my shoes because, honestly, I can’t look into his eyes. They’re mesmerizing and too intense right now. “Thanks again for, you know, playing with my brother. He really likes you. ”

  “That’s ’cause he doesn’t really know me. ”



  Before school starts, I go behind the football bleachers to find Nick. Sure enough, he’s smokin’ a joint.

  A look of panic crosses his face, until a second later he masks it with a smile. “Hey, man, wassup? I heard you got busted last week. That sucks. ” He holds out his joint. “Want a hit?”

  I grab him by the collar and push him into a metal bar. “Why did you set me up?”

  “You’re crazy! I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” he says. “Why would I set you up?”

  I punch him in the face and he goes down. “Remember now?”

  “Oh, shit,” Nick cries out as I stand over him. I’ll kick the crap out of him until he gives me info. If he’s involved in any way with the Guerreros del barrio and Wes Devlin, that means Kiara and the Westfords could be in danger because I’m living with them. I can’t let that happen.

  I grab the front of his shirt and hold him up. “Tell me why you put the drugs in my locker. And you better do it quick, because I haven’t been in a good mood since those cops put me in handcuffs. ”

  He holds his hands up in surrender. “I’m a pawn, Carlos, just like you. My supplier, this guy Devlin, told me to plant the drugs. I don’t know why. He had a gun. And gave me the can and said to put it in your backpack or else. I don’t know why. I swear it wasn’t my idea. ”

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