Rules of attraction, p.22
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       Rules of Attraction, p.22
 

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 22

 

  “We’re not matching,” Tuck says defensively. He shrugs when he checks out my T-shirt and realizes the truth. “Okay, we are. ”

  I hadn’t noticed. Obviously, Tuck hadn’t noticed, either. We’re both wearing black T-shirts with big white letters that read DON’T BE A WIENER, CLIMB A 14’ER! We each bought one after we hiked to the peak of Mount Princeton last year. Before Princeton, we’d never climbed one of the “fourteeners,” the nickname for the Colorado mountains that top fourteen thousand feet.

  Carlos is looking at me.

  “What are you doing with my car?” I ask him, changing the subject.

  He looks to Alex.

  “We were just checkin’ it out,” Alex says. “Right, Carlos?”

  Carlos backs away from my Monte Carlo. “Yeah. Right. ” He almost looks embarrassed as he clears his throat and shoves his hands in his pockets.

  “My mom said to take you grocery shopping. Let me just go get my purse and keys and then if you want we could go. ”

  As I head to my room I wonder if I shouldn’t have left Carlos and Tuck together. The two of them don’t mix well at all. I grab my purse off my bed and am ready to run back outside, but Carlos is standing in my doorway.

  He rubs a hand over his head and sighs.

  “Everything okay?” I ask, taking a step closer to him.

  “Yeah, but can we just go alone? You and me, without Tuck. ” He shifts from one foot to the other as if he’s anxious.

  “That’s fine. ”

  He doesn’t move. He looks as if he wants to say something more, so I stay where I am. The more we stand here staring at each other, the more nervous I get. It’s not that Carlos intimidates me; when he’s around, the air just seems more electrified. Seeing him vulnerable like this is another glimpse into the real Carlos, the one without the protective wall.

  I held back so much when he threatened to kiss me at The Dome on Wednesday, and now even though Tuck and Alex are outside, I’m feeling an intense attraction to Carlos I’ve never experienced before.

  “You gonna change?” he asks, looking at my DON’T BE A WIENER, CLIMB A 14’ER! shirt with sweat spots on it from my jog. “That shirt has got to go. ”

  “You’re too focused on looks. ”

  “Better than not bein’ focused on it at all. ”

  I slide my purse on my shoulder, then motion for him to move out of the way.

  He moves aside. “Speakin’ of looks, you ever takin’ that rubber-band thing out of your hair?”

  “No. ”

  “ ’Cause it looks like a dog’s tail. ”

  “Good. ” As I pass him, I whip my head and try to hit him with my ponytail. He catches it just as it’s about to lash across his face. Instead of pulling it, he lets my hair slide through his fingers. I look back at him and find him smiling. “What?”

  “Your hair is soft. I wasn’t expectin’ that. ”

  The fact that he actually paid attention to what my hair felt like as it fell from his fingers makes me catch my breath. I swallow hard as he reaches out and runs my hair through his fingers again. It feels intimate.

  He shakes his head. “One of these days, Kiara, we’re gonna get in trouble. You know that, don’t you?”

  I want to ask him to elaborate on what he means by trouble, but I don’t. Instead, I say, “I don’t do trouble,” and walk away from him.

  Outside, Tuck and Alex are waiting for us.

  “What were you guys doing in there for so long?” Tuck asks.

  “Wouldn’t you like to know,” Carlos fires back, then looks at me. “Tell him he’s not comin’ with us. ”

  Tuck drapes his arm around my shoulders. “What is he talking about, babycakes? I thought we were going to hang out at my house and, well, you know. ” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down, then pats me on the butt.

  My best friend does such an over-the-top impression of a boyfriend I don’t think he’s convincing at all, but Carlos seems to be buying it, if the look of disgust on his face is any indication.

  I lean close to Tuck’s ear. “Tone it down, babycakes. ”

  He leans close to my ear. “Okay, snookie-wookie. ”

  I push him away before I laugh.

  “I’m out of here,” Tuck says, then jogs off.

  Alex leaves right after him, so it’s just me and Carlos standing on the driveway.

  “I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out,” Carlos says. “You and Tuck are just friends. I don’t even think you’re friends with benefits. ”

  “That’s ridiculous. ” I get in my car and avoid eye contact with him.

  Carlos slides through the window. “If he’s the champion kisser you claim he is, how come I’ve never seen you guys lock lips?”

  “We kiss all the time. ” I clear my throat, then add, “We just . . . do it in private. ”

  A smug expression crosses his face. “I don’t buy it for a second, ’cause if you were my girlfriend and a stud like me was livin’ in your house, I’d kiss you in front of the guy every chance I got as a reminder. ”

  “A reminder of w-w-what?”

  “That you were mine. ”

  31

  Carlos

  I push a cart through the grocery store, thankful for a chance to shop for food I can actually identify. As I weave around the other customers in the vegetable aisle, I pick up an avocado and toss it to Kiara. “I bet you’ve never had real Mexican food before. ”

  “Sure I have,” she says as she catches it and places it in the cart. “My mom makes tacos all the time. ”

  “What kind of meat is inside?” I ask, testing her. I bet Mrs. W. doesn’t know the first thing about authentic tacos.

  Kiara mumbles something I can’t make out.

  “What? Can’t hear ya. ”

  “Tofu. I admit tofu tacos probably isn’t the most authentic Mexican dish, but—”

  “Tofu tacos are not Mexican. I think putting tofu on anything and calling it Mexican is an insult to my people. ”

  “I doubt that’s true. ”

  She walks down the aisle, watching as I pick up tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, poblano, and jalapeños. The fresh smell of each item reminds me of miama’s kitchen. I grab something we always had in our kitchen back home. “This is a tomatillo. ”

  “What do you do with it?”

  “I can make a mean salsa verde with it. ”

  “I like red salsa. ”

  “That’s only because you haven’t tasted mine. ”

  “We’ll see,” she says, unconvinced. I might have to make a special extra-spicy batch for her so she’ll remember not to challenge me.

  Kiara follows me around the grocery store. I buy all the necessities— beans, rice, and masa flour, and different kinds of meat (which Kiara insisted on being organic even though it cost almost double what the non-organic meat was). Then we head back.

  In the Westfords’ kitchen, I pull out the groceries and volunteer to make dinner. Mrs. W. is grateful because Brandon has a project for school. Supposedly he tried to make a map on his body with permanent markers, and it’s not coming off.

  “I’ll help,” Kiara says as I set out bowls on the counter and place pans on the stove.

  For once I think it’s a good thing Kiara is wearing a T-shirt so I don’t have to make her pull up any sleeves.

  “It’s gonna get messy,” I tell her after we wash our hands.

  She shrugs. “That’s okay. ”

  I place the masa flour in a bowl, then add water.

  “Ready?” I ask her.

  She nods.

  I dig in with my hands and knead the masa into the water. “Come on, help me. ”

  Kiara stands next to me and dives in, squishing the now wet and sticky dough between her fingers. Our hands touch a few times, and I think one time I accidentally mistook her finger for dough.

  I add more water and stand back, watching her.

  “W
hat consistency do you want?” she asks as her hands are busy working in the dough.

  “I’ll tell you when to stop. ” I don’t know why I’m standing like an idiot leaning against the counter watching her. Maybe it’s because this girl doesn’t complain about doing anything. She’s not afraid to climb mountains, fix cars, challenge jerks like me, or get her hands dirty in the kitchen. Is there anything this girl can’t—or won’t— do?

  I look into the bowl. The masa mixture definitely looks like a solid mass of dough. “I think that’s good. Now roll it into balls and I’ll mash them with this pan. Since I’m sure you don’t own a tortilla maker, we’ll figure somethin’ out. Be careful, you wouldn’t want to mess up that ridiculous shirt you’re wearin’. ”

  While I’m searching the cabinets to find plastic wrap to put in between the pan and ball before I smash it into a tortilla shape, I feel something hit my back. I look on the floor. One of the dough balls is rolling away from me.

  I look at Kiara. In her hand is another ball, aimed right at me.

  “You didn’t just throw that at me, did you?” I ask, amusement laced in my voice.

  She takes another dough ball in her other hand. “I did. It’s punishment for calling my shirt ridiculous. ” She smiles in triumph, then whips the ball at me, but this time I catch it. In one movement I pick up the one on the floor so now I’m holding two balls.

  “Punishment, huh?” I say as I toss the one I caught up in the air and catch it again. “And it’s got your name written all over it. Payback’s a bitch, chica. ”

  “Really?” she asks.

  “Yeah. Really. ”

  “You’re gonna have to catch me first. ” Like a little kid, she sticks her tongue out at me, then makes a dash for the backyard. I let her get a head start while I grab the entire bowl of dough and go after her. My arsenal just multiplied drastically. “Don’t ruin my balls!” She laughs as the words leave her mouth. I watch in amusement as she scrambles to take a side table off the patio and use it as a shield.

  “Better yours than mine, chica. ” I toss the dough balls at her, one by one, until I’ve got none left.

  Our dough war continues until the entire backyard is scattered with little balls.

  Westford comes outside with a confused look on his face. “I thought you two were making dinner. ”

  “We were,” Kiara tells him.

  “While you two have been playing around, the rest of us are hungry. Where’s dinner?”

  Kiara and I look at her dad, then each other. Without even saying a word, we pelt him with dough balls until he joins the war. In the end, Mrs. W. and Brandon get in on the dough wars, too.

  I’m tempted to call Alex and Brittany over, ’cause I wouldn’t mind pelting them with a few. Maybe I should suggest to Mrs. Berger to have dough wars during REACH. It beats group therapy any day of the week.

  32

  Kiara

  “Come over tonight,” Madison says to Carlos at his locker Friday morning. “My parents are still gone, so we can play house all weekend. ”

 
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