Rules of attraction, p.29
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       Rules of Attraction, p.29

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 29


  I feel like I’m on a white people self-help show, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. I’m also not used to a father who wants to actually talk about shit like this. Is this normal, or does it only happen with dads who happen to be psychologists who’re trying to shrink our brains?

  “I’m not stupid enough to think that I can prevent you from doing . . . whatever it is you two were doing,” Westford continues. “But I’m instituting a new rule: no more monkey business between you two under my roof. If I make it harder for you, maybe you’ll make better choices. And I should also tell you, as your father, Kiara, and your guardian, Carlos, to stay a virgin until you get married. ” He sits back in his chair and smiles at us, mighty pleased with himself for that last sentence. Too bad this discussion is a few years too late, at least for me.

  “Were you a virgin when you got married?” I ask, challenging him. Immediately his grin fades.

  “Yes, um, well, um . . . when I was a teen it was a very different day and age. Teens today are smarter and more educated. There are incurable diseases . . . and dangers for both partners if you’re not in a serious, monogamous, committed relationship. ” He wiggles a finger at both of us. “And don’t forget the big p-word. ”

  I can’t help but chuckle. ¿Perdón? “The p-word?”

  “Pregnancy!” The Professor narrows his eyes at me. “I’m not ready to be a grandpa for a long, long, long, long time. ”

  I think about my mom, who got pregnant with Alex when she was seventeen. Miamá made me promise to always wear a condom if I was ever physical with a girl— she never wanted one of her sons to end up like her and mi papá. Hell, she even hid some condoms in a pair of my underwear as a reminder.

  Last night scared the shit out of me. ’Cause while I’ve always had my head on straight when it comes to protectin’ myself and the girl I’m with, I can’t say I would’ve been able to stop us last night even though I didn’t have a condom within reach. And I wasn’t even wasted. If I hadn’t been scared half to death from those gunshots comin’ from the TV, Kiara and I might be having a very different talk with the Professor right now.

  “Dad, we know about all that,” Kiara chimes in.

  “It doesn’t hurt to have a refresher talk, in light of the fact that Carlos’s shirt was lying on the floor in the den this morning. ”

  When I hold up the shirt so she knows what he’s talking about, Kiara chokes out a surprised, “Oh. ”

  Westford checks the clock on his desk. “I’ve got to get Brandon outside before he develops ADD from watching too much television. ” He holds his hands out as if he’s about to hand me an offering. “Carlos, are we in complete understanding with each other?”

  “Yeah,” I say. “As long as it’s not in your house and you don’t know about it, you’re okay with us messin’ around. ”

  “I know you’re joking with me. You are joking with me, aren’t you?”

  “Maybe. ”

  Kiara steps in the room. “Dad, he was kidding. ”

  The Professor counts off each word on his fingers and gives me a level stare. “Don’t forget . . . (1) serious, (2) monogamous, (3) committed relationship, (4) not under my roof, and (5) trust. ”

  “And don’t forget (6) the p-word,” I remind him.

  He nods. “Yes. The p-word. One day in the military, Carlos, and they’d kick that cockiness of yours right out the window. ”

  “Too bad I’m not plannin’ on signin’ up. ”

  “That is too bad. If you ever did sign up and put as much energy into being a good soldier as you do trying to have a major attitude, you’d go far. I’m tempted to put something red inside the laundry so your underwear turns pink. It would be a little reminder of our talk today. ”

  I shrug. “That’s okay. I don’t wear underwear,” I lie.

  “Out, wise guy,” he orders, shooing us out the door. I think I catch the side of his mouth quirk up, amused at my comeback, but it quickly disappears. “Both of you, out of my office. And let’s keep this talk between just us. Now get your butts over to Hospitali-Tea. My wife is expecting to put you both to work today. Don’t stop on the way,” he calls out when we’re in the hallway. “I’m calling there in fifteen minutes to make sure you’ve arrived. ”



  “Listen, chica—,” Carlos says when we’re driving to my mom’s store a few minutes later.

  My hands tighten on the steering wheel. “Don’t call me that anymore,” I tell him.

  “What do you want me to call you, then?”

  I shrug. “Whatever. Just not chica. ” I reach down to turn on my stereo but realize it still doesn’t work. I grip the steering wheel tighter and concentrate on the road ahead, even when we’re at a stoplight.

  Carlos holds his hands up. “What do you want from me? You want me to tell you lies, is that what you want? Okay, I’ll give you lies. Kiara, without you I’m nothin’. Kiara, you own my heart and soul. Kiara, when I’m not with you I feel like life has no meaning. Kiara, I love you. Is that what you want to hear?”

  “Yes. ”

  “No guy who actually says those things really means them. ”

  “I bet your brother says them to Brittany and means them. ”

  “That’s because he’s lost all common sense. I thought you were the one girl who didn’t fall for my bullshit. ”

  “I don’t. Consider my wanting you as my real boyfriend as a lapse in judgment,” I tell him. “But I’m over it. I expect less than nothing from you from now on, and I’ve realized you’re not my type at all. In fact,” I say, glancing at him, “I might call Michael. He wants to go out again. ”

  Carlos reaches down to my purse and pulls my phone from the side pocket. I try to snatch it out of his hand, but he’s too quick. “What are you doing?”

  “Concentrate on the road, Kiara. You wouldn’t want to get into an accident ’cause you weren’t payin’ attention, would you?”

  “Put it back,” I order.

  “I will. I need to check somethin’ first. ”

  At the next stoplight, I reach over and take the phone out of his hand. I read the text message Carlos just sent Michael. 4Q. “You didn’t. ”

  “Yeah, I did. ” He sits back, looking pretty pleased with himself. “You can thank me later. ”

  Thank him? Thank him! I pull off the road, pick up my purse, and swing it like a war club aiming right at Carlos’s head.

  He grabs the purse before it hits him. “Don’t tell me you really wanted to go out with that tool again. ”

  “I don’t know what I want anymore. ”

  I get back on the road, heading for my mom’s shop. I stop the car and get out, without waiting for Carlos.

  “Kiara, wait. ” Carlos growls as he climbs out of the window. I hear him jog to catch up with me. “I’m gonna fix that damn car door if it’s the last thing I ever do. ” He rubs his hand through his hair. “Listen, if things were different . . . ”

  “What things?”

  “It’s complicated. ”

  I turn my back on him. If he won’t tell me, there’s no use in arguing.

  “Hi, guys!” My mom greets us at the front of the store, so our conversation is cut short. “Kiara, I pulled out the receipts from last month and the past week. Feel free to reconcile those. Carlos, come with me. ”

  While I sit in the office and tally receipts and reconcile the books, I hear my mom explain to Carlos how to separate the boxes of loose teas that were just delivered.

  At around one, my mom peeks her head in the door and tells me to meet her in the break room for lunch. My mom is oblivious to the tension in the air as we all sit in the break room. She expects everyone to be happy and energetic all the time, so I wonder when she’ll notice the happiness quotient in the room is way off.

  “I got this from Teddy, the vendor outside the store,” she says as she pulls food out from a bag.

  “What is it?” Car
los asks as she hands him one.

  “Organic vegan dogs. ”

  “What’s a vegan dog?”

  “A vegetarian hot dog,” she says. “With no animal products. ”

  Carlos unwraps his hot dog uncertainly.

  “It won’t kill you to eat healthy, Carlos,” my mom says. “But if you don’t like it, I can go out and get you processed food if you want. ”

  I start eating my vegan dog. I don’t mind eating all the healthy stuff my mom makes, but I definitely like processed food every now and then.

  Carlos bites into his. “It’s pretty good. Got any fries to go with it?”

  I almost laugh when my mom dumps out a bunch of orange fries on top of a napkin. “They’re baked sweet potato fries. With the skin on, to give you more fiber. If I’m not mistaken, I think they’ve also got omega-3 fatty acids. ”

  “I like to eat without thinkin’ about what’s inside,” Carlos says as he munches away.

  My mom pours us glasses of iced tea from a big pitcher she made for us. “You should care about what goes in your body. For example, this tea blend has açaí, orange-peel extract, and mint. ”

  “Mom, eat,” I tell her. Before I know it, she’ll go through an entire explanation of antioxidants and free radicals.

  “Okay, okay. ” She takes out her hot dog and starts eating. “So how was the movie last night?”

  “It was good,” I say, hoping she doesn’t ask details because I have no clue what the movie was about.

  She picks up a fry and bites off the tip. “It seemed a little violent. I’m not into violent movies. ”

  “Me, either,” I say. Carlos stays silent. I feel his gaze on me, but I don’t look up. I focus my attention on everything else besides him.

  Iris, one of my mom’s weekend employees, opens the break-room door. “Colleen, you’ve got a customer specifically requesting you. She seems as if she’s in a hurry. ”

  My mom takes the last bite of her dog. “Duty calls. ”

  I get up to leave too, but Carlos reaches out and takes hold of my wrist. God, how I want him to pull me toward him and tell me that last night wasn’t a mistake. This thing between us doesn’t have to be complicated.

  “It’s not you, you know. I haven’t wanted to be with a girl so bad since . . . ” His voice trails off and he lets go of my wrist.

  “Since who?” I ask.

  “It doesn’t matter. ”

  “It does to me. ”

  He hesitates, as if he doesn’t want to say her name. When he finally says “Destiny,” he can’t hide that he still has feelings for her. Her name rolls off his tongue as if he savors each syllable.

  I’m definitely jealous. There’s no way I can compete with Destiny. Carlos obviously still loves her. “I get it. ”

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