Rules of attraction, p.33
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       Rules of Attraction, p.33

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 33


  Before Berger starts our little therapy session or whatever politically correct name they’ve come up with to call our group of fuckups this week, Zana and Justin come up to me.

  “What happened to you?” Justin asks. “Get run over by a truck numerous times?”

  Zana, wearing another skirt so short it might get her sent home from school, bites into one of the brownies set out for us. “Rumor has it you got jumped by some gang members fighting for territory. ” She says it softly, so Berger can’t hear.

  “You’re both wrong. ” I slide into a chair and hope Berger doesn’t grill me about the fight. Hell, I finally got Alex to stop grilling me. I told him to back off, and promised to tell him if Devlin or his guys contact me again.

  Again, I don’t believe in promises. Why are people such suckers?

  When Keno walks in late, I notice immediately he’s ignoring me. Normally I wouldn’t even notice, but everyone else is staring at me wide-eyed as if my face has been taken over by an alien life-form. Glad they weren’t with me on Sunday. I look a helluva lot better now.

  Berger walks into the room, takes one look at me, and walks back out. Sure enough, after a minute Kinney and Morrisey appear.

  Morrisey points to me. “Carlos, come with us. ”

  Both Kinney and Morrisey escort me to a little room off to the side. It’s like a room at a doctor’s office, complete with those needle disposal boxes hangin’ on the wall. There’s one difference, though. A toilet is in the corner, with a small privacy curtain hanging off the ceiling.

  Morrisey points at my face. “Your guardian called you out on Monday and Tuesday. He said you were in a fight. Wanna tell us about it?”

  “Not really. ”

  Kinney steps forward. “Okay, Carlos, here’s the drill. From the look of you, we suspect you’ve been under the influence in the past week. Fights usually go along with drinking and drugs. We’re giving you a urine test. Go wash your hands in the sink over there. ”

  I want to roll my eyes and tell them that getting your ass kicked doesn’t mean you’re a druggie, but instead I just shrug. “Whatever,” I say, after I wash my hands. “Just give me a cup so I can get it over with. ”

  “If you test positive, you’re expelled,” Morrisey says as he opens one of the cabinets and pulls out a urine cup. “You know the rules. ”

  I reach for the cup, but Kinney holds his hand up. “Let me explain what you need to do. You’ll have to strip down to your underwear in our presence, then go behind that curtain and urinate in a cup. ”

  I toss my shirt on one of the chairs, then shrug out of my jeans. I hold my arms out wide and turn around. “Happy now?” I ask them. “I don’t got any contraband on me. ”

  Morrisey hands me the cup. “You have four minutes or less. And don’t flush the toilet, or we’re going to do this all over again. ”

  I go behind the curtain with the cup in hand and piss. I’ve got to admit, it’s humiliating having Morrisey and Kinney listening to me piss, although this is just routine for them.

  When I’m done and dressed, I’m instructed to wash again and head back to the group. They won’t have the results until tomorrow, so I’m off the hook until then. When I walk into the room, everyone is staring at me except for Keno. They obviously know the routine and probably figured out I’d just been tested.

  “Welcome back,” Berger says. “You’ve obviously had a rough week. We missed you. ”

  “I was kind of laid up. ”

  “Want to tell us about it? Whatever gets shared in this room, stays in this room. Right, guys?”

  Everyone nods, but I notice Keno mumble under his breath and still avoid eye contact with me. He knows somethin’, and I need to find out what. Problem is getting him alone, ’cause after every meeting he books out of here.

  “Let someone else talk,” I tell her.

  “He’s dating Kiara Westford,” Zana chimes in. “I saw him with his arm around her in the hallway at school. And my friend Gina saw them at lunch together and heard him ask her to Homecoming. ”

  That’s the last time I’m doin’ anything in public. “Don’t you ever mind your own business?” I ask Zana. “Seriously, don’t you have any-thin’ better to do than gossip with your stupid friends?”

  “Fuck you, Carlos. ”

  “Enough. Zana, we don’t talk like that in here. I won’t tolerate profanity. I’m giving you a warning. ” Berger takes her pen and writes shit down in her notebook. “Carlos, tell me about Homecoming. ”

  “There’s nothin’ to tell. I’m goin’ with a girl, that’s all. ”

  “Is she someone special?”

  I look over at Keno. If he knows Devlin’s crew, he might give them info. Is Berger that naive to believe what’s said in our little group therapy sessions is actually gonna stay in our group therapy sessions? As soon as we’re out of here, I guarantee Zana is on her cell sharing with her stupid friends every bit of info she can squeeze out of us.

  “Kiara and I are . . . complicated,” I tell the group.

  Complicated. That seems to be the theme of my life lately. The rest of the group session is concentrated on Carmela, who complains that her dad is so old-fashioned he’s forbidden her to schedule a trip to California with friends for winter break. Carmela should have parents like the Westfords, who believe everyone should set their own path and make their own mistakes (until you get beat up, then they’re all over you and won’t leave you alone). They’re the opposite of Carmela’s parents.

  When we’re let out of REACH, I follow Keno as he leaves the building. “Keno,” I call to him, but he keeps walking. I curse under my breath, then jog to catch up with him before he gets into his car. “What’s your fuckin’ problem?”

  “I don’t got one. Now get out of my way. ”

  I stay between him and his car. “You work for Devlin, don’t you?”

  Keno looks to his right and left, as if he suspects someone’s watchin’ us talk. “Get the hell away from me. ”

  “No way, man. You know somethin’—that means you and me are best friends. I’m gonna ride your ass until you give up any info you have on me or Devlin. ”

  “You’re a pendejo. ”

  “I’ve been called worse, man. Don’t test me. ”

  He looks a little nervous. “Then get in the car, before someone sees us. ”

  “The last time someone told me to do that, I got my ass kicked by five pendejos. ”

  “Just do it. Or we’re not talkin’. ”

  I have the urge to jump through the window, but then realize only Kiara’s car has a stuck door. Keno drives out of the lot. Alex is waiting for me at McConnell’s. I have no doubt he’ll end up sending the cavalry if I’m not there, so I call him.

  “Where are you?” my brother asks.

  “With a . . . friend. ” He’s not really a friend, but there’s no need to send up a red flag. “I’ll meet you later,” I say, then hang up before he can give me any shit.

  Keno doesn’t say anythin’ until he parks at a small apartment complex out of town. “Follow me,” he says, then leads me into the building.

  Inside, he greets his ma and sisters in Spanish. He introduces me, then we head to the back of the apartment. His small bedroom feels oddly familiar. I could probably spot a Mexican teen’s bedroom from a mile away. The creamy white walls have family photos pushpinned to the wall. The Mexican flag attached to the wall and the green, white, and red stickers on the desk gives me a sense of comfort, even though I know I have to be on alert around Keno. I’m just not sure what his game is.

  Keno pulls out a pack of cigarettes. “Want a smoke?”

  “No. ” Never was my thing, even though I was brought up by a bunch of smokers. Miamá smokes, and so did Alex until he started dating the beauty queen. Right about now if he offered me a Vicodin or two I’d probably take it. I’ve pretty much been in bed since Sunday night and my body is still stiff.

  Keno shrug
s and lights up. “Morrisey gave you a drug test today, huh?”

  I guess we’re gonna bullshit around before we get to the real reason he brought me here. “Yep. ”

  “Think you’ll pass?”

  “I’m not worried. ” I lean on the window ledge and watch as Keno sits in his desk chair and blows out smoke. The guy doesn’t look like he has a care in the world, and right about now I’m jealous.

  “Berger just about had a coronary when she saw you today. ”

  “You can speak in Spanish to me, you know. ”

  “Yeah, well, if I speak Spanish my ma will know what I’m sayin’. It’s better when she’s clueless. ”

  I nod. It’s always better when parents are clueless. Unfortunately, I had to call my uncle Julio yesterday and give him a heads-up on what’s been goin’ on. He promised he would make sure Luis and miamá had protection, and would try not to alarm them unnecessarily. He wasn’t too happy with me for gettin’ messed up with Devlin, but he pretty much expects me to be a fuckup, so he wasn’t surprised.

  Makes me want to prove I’m not totally useless, but that’s not likely to happen. Being a fuckup is what I’ve done best my entire life. It’s comforting to know that Kiara and her parents believe everyone can wipe the slate clean at any point.

  “So you’re datin’ that Kiara chick, huh?” He blows out smoke. “Is she hot?”

  “Smokin’,” I say, knowing that Keno has no clue who she is since he doesn’t go to Flatiron. Thoughts of Kiara in her DON’T BE A WIENER, CLIMB A 14’ER shirt run through my head. I’ve got to admit, Kiara’s not the type I’m usually attracted to, and I’m certain Keno wouldn’t be attracted to her, but lately I can’t think of anything sexier than a girl who knows how to solder wires together and bake stupid-ass cookie magnets. I need to stop thinkin’ about her so much, but I don’t want to. Not yet. Maybe after Homecoming. Besides, I have to keep her close to protect her from Rodriguez and Devlin’s guys.

  Speaking of Devlin . . . “No more fuckin’ around, Keno. Tell me what you know. ”

  “I know you’re part of the Devlin crew. It’s all around—”

  “All around where?”

  “The Six Point Renegados, otherwise known as R6. ” He pulls up his shirt and shows off a black six-point star with a big blue R in the middle of it. “You’re in deep shit, ese. Devlin is crazy, and the R6 don’t like him closin’ in on our territory. The R6 controlled things around here until Devlin messed it all up. A war is about to go down, and Devlin is recruitin’ guys who know how to fight. All he’s got now is a bunch of loser kids as bag boys who smoke ’bout as much as they sell. He needs warriors. Carlos, one look at you and anyone can see you’re a warrior, a guerrero. ”

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