Rules of attraction, p.21
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       Rules of Attraction, p.21

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 21


  That leaves me to find out whose idea it was. The problem is, now I have to contact Devlin and watch my back every second of the day.

  “Carlos, it’s your turn to share. ”

  All eyes are on me after school at REACH. Berger expects me to spill my guts in front of everybody. Isn’t it bad enough I have to hear about their stupid problems, like how Justin’s dad tells him he’s an idiot all the time and how Keno is a hero because his friends all drank beer over the weekend and he didn’t give in to the peer pressure?

  What. A. Bunch. Of. Crap!

  Mrs. Berger looks at me over the top of her glasses. “Carlos?”


  “Would you like to share something you did over the past week that had an impact on you?”

  “Not really. ”

  Zana sneers, curling her lip-glossed lips. “Carlos thinks he’s too cool to share with us. ”

  “Yeah,” Carmela chimes in. “Why do you think you’re better than us, huh?”

  Keno gives me a hard stare, obviously tryin’ to intimidate me. I wonder if he knows anything about Devlin.

  It’s clear I shouldn’t expect Mexican Power on my side right now, so I look to Justin.

  “You can do what you want,” Justin, the green-haired kid says. “Just as long as it doesn’t involve me. ”

  What the hell is that supposed to mean?

  Quinn is looking at the floor.

  Berger leans forward. “Carlos, you’ve been here a week already and haven’t opened up. Each of the other group members has shared a part of themselves with you. Why not share just a tiny bit of what’s been happening so your peers can feel connected to you in some way. ”

  She’s actually assumin’ I want to be connected to these people. Is she nuts?

  “Just say something already,” Zana urges.

  “Yeah,” Keno agrees.

  Berger gives me that we’re-here-for-you pity gaze. “Our group is held together when everyone contributes a part of themselves. Think of your sharing as the glue that makes us a unit where everyone helps each other and nobody is left out. ”

  She wants glue, I’ll give her glue. I’m not tellin’ them crap about Nick or Devlin, but something else is on my mind. I hold my hands up in surrender. “Fine. I almost kissed this girl, Kiara, on Wednesday. It was on top of this stupid mountain she made me climb. ” I shake my head in frustration just thinkin’ about it. The problem is, for the past two days I haven’t been able to stop thinkin’ about what that kiss would have been like.

  Keno leans forward in his chair. “You like her?”

  “No. ”

  “Then why did you almost kiss her?” Zana asks.

  I shrug. “To prove a point. ” They’re all quiet and totally focused on me.

  “What point would that be?” Berger asks.

  “I kiss better than her boyfriend. ”

  Justin’s hand flies to his shocked, open mouth. If that’s scandalous to him, I bet I can count how many girls he’s kissed on less than one hand.

  “Did she kiss you back?” Carmela asks.

  Keno raises his eyebrows. “Is she Mexicano?”

  “We didn’t kiss. We almost kissed, and it wasn’t a big deal. ”

  “You like her,” Zana says. When I sneer she says, “Oh, please. People say ‘it was no big deal’ when it is a big deal. ”

  “What does it matter, Zana?” Justin chimes in. “He didn’t actually kiss her, and she has a boyfriend. Whether he likes her or not, she’s taken. ”

  “You have to work on yourself, Carlos, before you can have a healthy relationship,” Zana says like she’s some sort of expert.

  Yeah, whatever. I don’t like Kiara. The last thing I want is a healthy relationship . . . and I’m not even convinced that a healthy relationship even exists.

  I lean back and cross my arms. “Just so you know, Mrs. B. , I’m done talkin’. ”

  Berger gives me a nod of approval. “Thanks for sharing, Carlos. We all appreciate your willingness to give us a glimpse into your personal life. Believe it or not, our group is more cohesive now because of you. ”

  I’d give a hand gesture to show what I think of her theory, but it’s probably a violation of the damn rules.

  I suffer through the rest of our group therapy session with the misfits, although I swear they’re all actin’ as if we’re friends now. When I walk out of the building at the end of the day, Alex is in the parking lot waiting for me with Brittany’s car.

  When we’re at a stoplight, I see a couple walking hand in hand in front of us. I never see Tuck and Kiara holdin’ hands, so maybe one of them is a germ freak. “Kiara’s got this boyfriend who’s a total pendejo,” I blurt out. “The two of them are ridiculous together. ”

  Alex starts shaking his head.

  “What?” I ask.

  “Don’t get messed up with her. ”

  “I won’t. ”

  He laughs. “That’s what I said to Paco when he warned me about Brittany. ”

  “Let’s get this straight once and for all. I’m not you. I’ll never be you. And if I tell you there’s nothin’ between Kiara and me, I mean it. ”

  “Fine. ”

  “She annoys the shit out of me most of the time, anyway. ”

  My brother’s response is another laugh.

  When we get to the Westfords’ house, nobody is home. Kiara’s car is in the driveway with the passenger window open as usual.

  “She needs it fixed,” I tell Alex as we head toward it. I don’t think either one of us can resist imagining what the car would be like if it were fixed up. “The passenger door doesn’t open. ”

  Alex pulls the handle, testing it. “You should take it apart and see if you can fix it. ”

  I shrug. “I might. ”

  “Fixed up or not, it’s a sweet ride. ”

  “I know. I drove it. ” I poke my head inside the window and slide in.

  “What if I told you I bought one just like it?” Alex asks.

  “Really? You finally have your own car?”

  “Yeah. It needs work, so I’m keepin’ it in the shop until I can rebuild the engine. ”

  “Speakin’ of engines, I think this one is draggin’,” I tell him, then pop the hood on Kiara’s car.

  “You sure it’s okay we’re doin’ this?” he asks me.

  “She won’t care,” I tell him, then hope it’s true.

  As we’re inspecting the engine and talking cars, it’s as good a time as any to tell my brother what I found out. “I think Devlin was behind me bein’ set up. ”

  Alex picks up his head so fast he bangs it on the hood. “Devlin? Wes Devlin?” he asks.

  I nod.

  “Why Devlin?” He wipes his hand over his eyes, as if he can’t imagine how I got myself into this mess. “He recruits gang members from all over, turnin’ them into hybrids no matter what their affiliation is. How the hell did you let this happen?”

  “I didn’t actually let it happen. It just happened. ”

  My brother looks me straight in the eye. “Have you been lyin’ to me, Carlos? Have you been contactin’ the Guerreros back in Mexico and had this drug thing planned all along? Because Devlin doesn’t fuck around. Hell, he even had connections with the Latino Blood back in Chicago. ”

  “Don’t you think I know that?” I pull out Devlin’s number that I found in Nick’s locker and hand it to Alex. “I’m gonna call him. ”

  He takes one look at the number and shakes his head. “Don’t. ”

  “I have to. I’ve got to find out what he wants. ”

  Alex gives a short laugh. “He wants to own you, Carlos. The Guerreros obviously told him about you. ”

  I look my brother straight in the eye. “I’m not afraid of him. ”

  My brother jumped out of the Latino Blood and almost got killed. He knows what it means to challenge the top when it comes to gangs. “Don’t you dare do anythin’ without me.
We’re brothers, Carlos. I’ll always fight with you side by side, no questions asked. ”

  That’s what I’m afraid of.



  After school Tuck and I decided to take a jog before Tuck’s Ultimate Frisbee practice. We talked the first half mile, but have been running in silence ever since. Our feet slapping on the pavement is the only sound. The heat of the day is gone, but today a chill lingers in the air.

  I like jogging with Tuck. It’s a lonely sport, but having someone to do it with makes it way more fun.

  “How’s The Mexican?” Tuck asks, his voice echoing off the mountain slope.

  “Don’t call him that,” I say. “It’s racist. ”

  “Kiara, how is calling him Mexican racist? He is Mexican. ”

  “It’s the way you said it, not what you said. ”

  “Now you sound like your dad, all sensitive and PC. ”

  “What’s wrong with being sensitive?” I ask him. “What if Carlos called you The Gay Guy?”

  “I wouldn’t accuse him of being racist, that’s for sure,” Tuck says.

  “Answer the question. ”

  Tuck chuckles. “So did he really call me The Gay Guy?”

  “No. He thinks we’re a couple. ”

  “I bet he doesn’t even know any homos. That guy’s got a testosterone shield a mile high. ”

  When we reach the entrance of the jogging path through Canyon Park, I stop. “You never answered the question,” I say, out of breath. I’m used to the run, but today my heart is racing faster than usual and I’m suddenly anxious for no reason.

  Tuck holds his hands up. “I wouldn’t care if he called me gay, because I am gay. He’s Mexican, so what’s the big deal if I call him Mexican?”

  “Nothing. It’s calling him The Mexican that’s annoying. ”

  Tuck narrows his eyes at me. His face gets scrunched up, as if he’s trying to figure out what my motivations are. “Oh my God. ”


  “You like The Mexican. I should have seen it all along. That’s why you started stuttering again . . . it’s all because of him!”

  I roll my eyes and sneer. “I do not like him. ” I start running down the path, ignoring Tuck’s theory.

  “I can’t believe you like him,” Tuck croons, poking me in the side with his index finger.

  I jog faster.

  “Slow down. ” I hear Tuck panting behind me. “Okay, okay. I won’t call him The Mexican. Or say that you like him. ”

  I slow down and wait for him to catch up. “He thinks you and I are dating, and that’s just fine with me. Don’t let him know anything different, okay?”

  “If that’s what you want. ”

  “I do. ”

  At the top of the mountain, we stop and admire the city of Boulder below, then jog back home.

  Alex and Carlos are standing next to my car in my driveway.

  Carlos takes one look at us and throws his head back. “You guys are wearin’ matchin’ outfits. I’m gonna be sick. ” He points to us. “You see, Alex. Along with everything else, I have to deal with this: matchin’ white people. ”

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