Rules of attraction, p.32
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       Rules of Attraction, p.32

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 32


  My brother takes one look at me and shakes his head. He rubs his face, full of frustration and anger and responsibility. It’s not his fault, it’s mine. Whether I had a choice or not, I got myself into this and I’ll get myself out. Right now I wish everyone would just leave me alone, because I don’t want to talk about who was involved in the fight and why it happened in the first place.

  “I’m fine. Or at least I will be,” I tell him.

  The Professor, with such a concerned look on his face you’d think the guy was upset about his own son, says to Alex, “He won’t go to the hospital. ”

  “He can’t,” Alex tells him.

  “That’s insane, Alex. What kind of people don’t go to the hospital when they need medical attention?”

  “Our kind,” I tell him.

  “I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. We can’t just sit here and do nothing. Look at him, Alex. He’s practically in a fetal position. We’ve got to do something. ” I hear Westford pace back and forth on the carpet. “Okay. I’ve got a friend, Charles, who’s a doctor. I can call and see if he’ll come over and take a look at Carlos’s injuries. ” Westford kneels down to me. “But if he says you need to go to the hospital,” he says, shaking his finger at me, “you’re going, whether or not I have to drag you out of the house kicking and screaming. ”

  Speaking of kicking and screaming . . . “Where’s Brandon?” I ask. I don’t want the kid seeing me until the swelling goes down.

  “After Kiara told us what was going on, Colleen took him to her mother’s house. He’ll stay there for a few days. ”

  Their entire life is in chaos because of me. It’s bad enough I’m eating their food and taking up space in their house. Now their kid is banished because I’m a fuckup. “Sorry,” I tell him.

  “Don’t worry about it. Kiara, I’m going to call Charles. Why don’t we give Carlos and his brother some privacy. ” Oh, hell. That’s the last thing I want.

  When the door closes, Alex stands over the bed. “You look like shit, brother. ”

  “Thanks. ” I look at his bloodshot eyes and wonder if he cried when he found out I was beaten down. I’ve never actually seen Alex cry in person though we’ve been through some tough times. “So do you. ”

  “It was Devlin’s guys, huh? Kiara told me you said it was El Diablo. ”

  “They’re the ones who set me up at school. Last night I got jumped in— against my will. They said I’m a Devlin now. ”

  “That’s bullshit. ”

  Even though it hurts to move, I can’t help but let out a short laugh. “Tell that to Devlin. ” On second thought . . . “I’m kiddin’. Stay the hell away from Devlin. You’re out of all this. Keep it that way. I mean it. ”

  I start to get up so I can make sure Alex is listening to me. He’s my brother, my blood. He annoys the hell out of me most of the time, but when it comes right down to it I want to see him graduate from college and have little annoying mini-Alexes and mini-Brittanys running around in the future. This thing with Devlin . . . I just can’t guarantee I can get out of it. I wince and hold my breath as I struggle to sit up, wishing I could suck it up and pretend I’m not in pain. I hate feeling weak and having everyone else watch me struggle.

  Alex coughs a few times, then turns away so he doesn’t have to watch me struggle more. “I can’t believe this is happenin’ again. ” He clears his throat, then turns to me. “What did Devlin say? He’s got to want you for some specific reason. ”

  The more he knows, the deeper he’ll get into this mess. I can’t allow that to happen. “I’ll figure it out. ”

  “The hell you will. I’m not leavin’ here until you tell me everythin’ you know. ”

  “I guess you’re gonna be here a while. Better make yourself comfortable. ”

  Westford knocks and walks back in. “I called my friend Charles. He’s on his way. ”

  Mrs. W. joins us a second later, a tray in her hand. “You poor dear,” she says, then immediately puts down the tray and rushes over to me. She examines my busted lip and bruises. “How did this happen?”

  “You don’t want details, Mrs. W. ”

  “I hate fighting. It doesn’t solve anything. ” She sets the tray in my lap. “It’s chicken soup,” she explains. “My grandmother told me it heals everything. ”

  I’m not hungry, but Mrs. W. is so proud of the chicken soup I take a spoonful just to get her to stop looking at me so anxiously.

  “So?” she asks.

  Surprisingly, the warm, salty broth with noodles goes down easily. “It’s great,” I tell her.

  They’re all watching me like mother hens. I was fine with Kiara but I’m vulnerable right now and I don’t want anyone else around. Well, besides Kiara. Where is she?

  When the doctor arrives, he spends a half hour going over all my injuries. “You really got yourself in a doozy of a fight, Carlos. ” He turns to Westford. “Dick, he’s going to be just fine. No concussion, no deep contusions. He’s got badly bruised ribs. I can’t be certain he doesn’t have internal bleeding, but his color is good. Keep him home from school for a couple of days and he should start feeling better. I’ll be back on Wednesday to check on him. ”

  After everyone heads downstairs for dinner, Kiara slips back into my room and stands at the edge of the bed, looking down at me. “I’m not sorry I told them what happened to you. You’re not as invincible as you thought. And another thing . . . ” She bends down so she’s eye to eye with me. “Now that I know you’re going to be okay, I’ve decided not to have sympathy for you. If you were dealing drugs, you’d better come clean. I know that money in the envelope you stuck in your pillowcase didn’t come from selling my magnet cookies. ”

  “I liked you better when you were sympathetic,” I tell her. “And you give yourself too much credit. I couldn’t give your damn cookies away, let alone sell ’em. And I’m not sellin’ drugs. ”

  “Tell me where you got the money. ”

  “It’s complicated. ”

  She rolls her eyes. “Everything with you is complicated, Carlos. I want to help you. ”

  “You just said you don’t have sympathy. Why help me then?”

  “It’s selfish, really. I can’t stand watching my fake boyfriend in pain. ”

  “So this is about you, not me?” I ask her, amused.

  “Yeah. And just so you know, you ruined Homecoming for me. ”


  “If you haven’t noticed the posters around school, it’s next weekend. If you can’t walk, there’s no way you’ll be able to dance by Saturday night. ”



  On Wednesday, Carlos insists on going to school. He says he’s feeling better, although I can tell he’s moving slower than usual and is still in pain. He’s got a black eye and his lip is still swollen, but it just makes him look tougher and rougher. Most of the students at Flatiron are staring and pointing as we walk through the halls. Every time Carlos notices someone staring, he drapes his arm around me. Playing the role of his girlfriend isn’t fun when all we’re doing is being stared at. But we’re together, and I feed off his strength in the face of all the gossip.

  At lunch, I’m sitting with Tuck when Carlos walks up to us. “Eww,” Tuck says. “My eyes are almost tearing from looking at your nasty eye. Do us all a favor and wear a mask or something. Or a blindfold. ”

  Before I can kick Tuck under the table, Carlos takes the back of Tuck’s chair and tilts it. “Beat it, fucker. ”

  “It’s Tucker,” Tuck says, sliding off the chair but doing his best to hold on.

  “Whatever. I need to talk to Kiara, alone. ”

  “Stop fighting, you two,” I tell them. “Carlos, you can’t just order Tuck to leave. ”

  “Not even if I’m going to ask you to Homecoming?”

  I bite my bottom lip. He’s definitely not serious. He can’t be. There’s no way he can take me to Homecoming when just three
days ago he was barely able to move. I see him fighting the urge to wince every time he has to bend to get books from his locker or sit in a chair. He told me the doctor said he should move so he doesn’t get stiff, but he’s not superhuman, even though I think he wants to be.

  Tuck motions to the floor. “Are you gonna get on one knee? ’Cause everyone is already staring at you guys. I could take a pic on my cell and send it to the yearbook committee. ”

  “Tuck,” I say, looking up at my best friend. “Beat it. ”

  “Okay, okay. I’ll go eat by Jake Somers. Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired by Carlos and gather up the nerve to ask him to Homecoming. ”

  Carlos shakes his head. “I can’t believe I ever thought you were datin’ him. ” When Tuck is gone, Carlos pulls up a chair next to me. I notice he holds his breath as he bends to sit down. He’s doing a good job of trying to hide his pain, and I don’t think anyone else notices. But I do. He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a Homecoming ticket. “Will you go to Homecoming with me?”

  He’s focused only on me, not caring who may or may not be watching us. I, on the other hand, feel all eyes on me as if they’re darts. “Why ask now, in the middle of lunch?”

  “I just bought the ticket five minutes ago. Let’s just say I was anxious to make sure you’d still go with me. ”

  Ever since he got beat up, he’s been really vulnerable and insecure. It makes me nervous, because I never know if he’s going to end up pushing me away again. I can get used to this Carlos, the one who isn’t afraid to tell me how much he wants to be with me. But it also makes me emotional, and the more emotional I get, the harder it is to control my stuttering. “You can hardly m-m-move, Carlos. You d-d-don’t have to do this. ”

  “I want to do it. ” He shrugs. “Besides, I can’t wait to see you in a dress and heels. ”

  “W-w-what are you going to wear?” I ask him. “A suit and tie?”

  He shoves the ticket back in his pocket. “I was thinkin’ more like jeans and a T-shirt. ”

  Jeans? T-shirt? Besides being totally inappropriate for the homecoming dance . . . “We won’t match. I can’t pin a boutonniere on a T-shirt. ”

  “Boutonniere? What the hell is that, and why would I want you to pin it to me?”

  “Look it up in the dictionary,” I tell him.

  “As long as you’re at it, amigo,” Tuck says as he creeps up behind Carlos, “you might want to look up the word ‘corsage. ’ ”



  cor·sage (kôr-säzh,-säj) n. A small arrangement of flowers worn on the wrist or pinned to the shoulder.

  That’s what the dictionary says. REACH has a small room they call a library with a bunch of self-help books. I got lucky and found a dictionary, and the first thing I did when I got here was open it. I’m sure Kiara would be surprised that I did look it up. So now I’m wondering how I’m gonna find something decent to wear for Homecoming. Equally frustrating is what to do about getting one of these corsages.

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