Rules of attraction, p.25
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       Rules of Attraction, p.25

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
 
Page 25

 

  I shake my head and grab the shirt back. “You so owe me for this,” I say as I pull my T-shirt over my head and exchange it for the pink one.

  “I know. Name your price, amigo. ”

  “I will. Later. ” I gaze over at Kiara in the stands. “Has Kiara ever had a boyfriend?”

  He taps his chin with his index finger. “Did she tell you about Michael?”

  “Who’s Michael?” I ask.

  “The guy Kiara dated over the summer. ”

  She’s never mentioned the guy. “How serious was it?”

  Tuck grins wide. “My, my, aren’t we curious. ”

  “Answer the question. ”

  “He told her he loved her, then he text-dumped her. ”

  “What a dick. ”

  “Exactly. ” Tuck points to the other side of the field where the opposing team is practicing. “He’s the tall guy picking up his water bottle right over there, with the last name of Barra on his shirt. ”

  “That guy with the green bandanna?”

  “Yep, that’s the one,” Tuck says. “Michael Barra, the text-dumper. ”

  “Is he bald?”

  “No, Barra protects his precious hair so it doesn’t get messy when he plays. ” Tuck puts his hand on my chest to get my attention. “But remember what I told you in the car on the way over here when I explained the rules. This is a no-contact sport, Carlos. We get penalized for unnecessary roughness. ”

  “Uh-huh. ” In the opposite end zone I watch Kiara’s ex as he tosses his water bottle toward the sideline after taking a swig and doesn’t give a damn that it almost hits one of the spectator’s dogs. I hate that guy and I’ve never even met him.

  When the game starts, Dennis throws his arm back and whips the disc across the field to our opponents. The game is going fine until one of the guys on the other team mumbles a fag comment when I intercept his throw. The blood in my veins fires up in the same way it does when I’ve been called a dirty Mexican.

  I’m competitive, tough, and I’m ready to kick some Ultimate ass.

  I wonder if now is a good time to let Tuck know he should expect some very necessary roughness coming from one very fired-up Mexicano.

  34

  Kiara

  It’s weird seeing Michael again. I knew he’d be here, but I didn’t know how I’d feel about seeing him again after our breakup. I thought I’d still feel at least a little spark or remember why I started dating him, but I look over at him and feel absolutely nothing. I have definitely moved on. The problem is that the person I’m falling for hard and fast doesn’t want more than a fling. I don’t want a fling with Carlos. I’ll go along with pretending this thing between us is temporary and casual, but every time we’re together it feels too right to be temporary or casual.

  I find myself daydreaming about him when I wake up in the morning, in school when something reminds me of him, and when I fall asleep at night. Even when Michael and I were dating, just thinking about him didn’t brighten my day as much as thoughts of Carlos do.

  While he does his best to be a jerk, every day I get glimpses of the true Carlos. When he’s playing with my brother, I see a soft side he doesn’t show the rest of the world. When he’s joking around with me, his playful side comes out. When he kisses me, I sense his desperate need for affection. When he’s cooking Mexican dishes or inserting Spanish into his English, his loyalty to his heritage and culture comes shining out of him like a beam of light.

  I know the great things about Carlos and why I’m feeling attached to him like I’ve never felt with anyone else before. But he hasn’t given me glimpses into his dark side, the side that makes him angry and jealous and beaten down. And I know it’s that part of him that won’t let him get emotionally involved.

  I watch as the teams line up in each of their end zones and Tuck’s team tosses the disc in play. Michael is the first to run out and catch it, then quickly aims for another player on his team. The problem is that Carlos is there to intercept the disc almost the second it leaves Michael’s hands.

  In the first two minutes of the game, The Ultimates have scored. Tuck gives Carlos a high five. I have to admit it’s nice seeing them celebrating instead of arguing.

  “Carlos is really good,” Brittany says to both Alex and me.

  “He’s a Fuentes, of course he’s good,” Alex says proudly.

  I also knew Carlos would be good, because Carlos wouldn’t agree to play if he didn’t think he’d be decent at it.

  The next time Carlos has the disc, Michael gets in his face and says something. I have no clue what they’re saying, but both look like they’re ready to fight. In fact, after Carlos tosses the disc to another guy on his team, he gives Michael a shove, and Michael lands hard on his butt.

  “Foul!” someone on Michael’s team yells.

  “Foul, my ass,” Carlos argues. “He was in my face. ”

  “I heard him taunt our player,” Tuck calls out, then points to Michael. “That guy should get a taunting violation. ”

  Michael stands and points to Carlos. “You’ve been in my face since the game started!”

  “We’re playing one-on-one,” Tuck says. “He was defending you. ”

  “He pushed me. You saw it. Everyone saw it. He should be kicked out!”

  If Carlos is kicked out, the game is over because The Ultimates have to forfeit. Carlos looks at me and my heart turns over. He isn’t playing because Tuck asked, he’s doing it for me . . . and I have a sneaking suspicion he was getting aggressive with Michael because of me.

  Thankfully the confrontation ends before it gets out of hand, and they start the game again. I watch for the next hour as both teams battle it out. In the end, The Ultimates win 13–9.

  When I climb down off the bleachers, Michael is walking toward me. He still looks the same, just sweatier than usual. With his bandanna now off, his light brown hair is neatly combed to perfection in a side part. I used to be in awe that he never had a hair out of place, but now it’s just irritating me.

  Michael wipes the sweat off his face with a towel. “I didn’t know if you’d come to the game or not. ”

  “Tuck was playing,” I say, as if that explains everything. “And Carlos. ”

  His eyebrows furrow. “Who’s Carlos? That gay guy I almost got in a fight with?”

  “Yeah. Except he’s not gay. ”

  “Don’t tell me you’re involved with him. ”

  “Involved isn’t exactly what I’d call it. We’re—”

  Carlos suddenly appears in front of us. He’s shirtless as he slides between Michael and me, his sweat making wet streaks across Michael’s forearm. Michael looks at his arm in disgust, then swipes Carlos’s sweat off with his towel. As if that didn’t make enough of a scene, Carlos parks himself beside me and drapes his arm across my shoulder.

  “We’re . . . hanging out,” I tell Michael.

  Michael completely ignores the fact that Carlos is standing beside me and asks, “What does that mean?”

  “It means she’s got her hands full with a hot Latino every night, dude,” Carlos interrupts, then pulls me closer and bends his head to kiss me.

  Instead of kissing Carlos, I push his arm off me and step away from him. He made it sound like I’m someone he screws around with, like we’re friends with benefits . . . maybe even without the “friends” part.

  “Stop it,” I tell him.

  “Stop what?”

  “The act. Just be normal,” I tell him, trying to save face with Michael while trying to hide my hurt from Carlos.

  “Normal? I’m not normal enough for you?” Carlos says. “You want this guy instead? Did you notice his hair doesn’t move? That’s not normal. You want to date him again, go ahead. Hell, if you want to marry him and be Kiara Barra the rest of your life, be my guest. ”

  “That’s not what I—”

  “I don’t want to hear it. Hasta,” Carlos says, ignoring me and walking away.
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  I feel my face heat up in embarrassment as I look back at Michael. “Sorry. Carlos can be abrasive sometimes. ”

  “Don’t apologize. The guy obviously has major issues and, for the record, my hair moves . . . when I want it to. Listen,” he says, changing the subject. “My team is going to Old Chicago at Pearl Street Mall for lunch. Come with me, Kiara. We need to talk. ”

  “I can’t. ” I look back at Tuck, Brittany, and Alex. “I came with other people . . . ”

  Michael waves to one of his teammates. “I’ve got to go. If you change your mind about lunch, you know where to find me. ”

  I find Brittany and Alex talking to Tuck by my car. Carlos is nowhere in sight.

  “You okay?” Brittany asks me.

  I nod. “Yep. ”

  “Excuse me for being nosy,” Brittany says, “but I saw Carlos with his arm around you. He looked pretty angry when he stalked off, and we haven’t seen him since. Are you and Carlos—,”

  “No. We’re not. ”

  “They’re pretending to date, but Kiara’s not pretending,” Tuck tells them.

  “I’ll go find him,” Alex says, shaking his head in frustration. “I’ll set him straight. ”

  “No, don’t,” I say in a panic. “Please don’t. ”

  “Why not? He can’t just go around pretending to date girls and treat them like—”

  “Alex,” Brittany interrupts, “let Kiara and Carlos figure it out themselves. ”

  “But he’s being stu—” He stops midsentence as Brittany squeezes his hand.

  “They’ll figure it out,” Brittany assures him, then smiles. “Don’t interfere just yet. ”

  “Why are you so logical?” he asks her.

  “Because my boyfriend is hardheaded and always ready for a fight,” she responds, then turns to me and Tuck. “Those traits run in the Fuentes family tree. It’ll be fine in the end, Kiara,” she assures me.

  I just don’t know if my heart will be shattered into pieces before that happens.

  35

  Carlos

  “Carlos, can you give me a hand with my wife’s car?” Westford asks later in the afternoon.

  I’m drinking one of Mrs. W. ’s special cups of tea on the patio. “Sure,” I say. “What’s the problem?”

  “Can you help me change the oil? I also want to make sure the muffler is attached properly. Colleen said it’s been making a rumbling sound. ”

  Soon I’m helping the Professor jack up the car and steady it on bricks he has stashed in the garage. We both shimmy under the body while the oil drains into a small bucket.

  “Did you have fun at the game this morning?” the Prof asks.

  “Yeah, ’cept I didn’t know I was going to be playin’ for a gay team. ”

  “Did it matter?”

  At first, yeah. But in the end we were all just a bunch of guys on a team. “No. Did you know Tuck was gay?”

 
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