Rules of attraction, p.39
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       Rules of Attraction, p.39
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         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 39

  Alex rubs his temples with his fingers. “You don’t know anythin’ about that night, Carlos, so don’t act like you do. ” He sits on his bed and puts his head in his hands. “I’m sorry for askin’, but I’ve got to know . . . did you use a condom?”

  “I’m not an idiot. ”

  Alex looks up and cocks a brow.

  “Okay,” I say. “I admit I’m an idiot. But I still used a condom. ”

  “At least you did one thing right. You can stay tonight,” Alex says as he tosses me a pillow and blanket from the closet.

  Alex returned the air mattress, so I have to sleep on the floor. Ten minutes later, when the lights are off and I’m staring up at the shadows on the ceiling, I ask, “When did you first fall for Brittany? Did you know it all along, or did somethin’ specific happen?”

  He doesn’t answer at first, so I think he’s sleeping. But then a long sigh fills the silence. “It was in Peterson’s chemistry class . . . when she told me she hated me. Now stop yappin’ and go to sleep. ”

  I turn on my side and go over the entire night in my head, starting with the moment I saw Kiara with that black dress on. The girl literally took my breath away. “Alex?”

  “What?” he asks, annoyed.

  “I told her I loved her. ”

  “Did you mean it?”

  I wasn’t kiddin’ when I said the girl had turned my life upside down. What kind of girl wears baggy shirts every day, has a gay best friend, stutters when she’s nervous, tapes shower schedules on the bathroom mirror, makes stupid cookie magnets just to piss me off, works on cars like a guy, and gets excited about the challenge of puttin’ on a condom? The girl is fuckin’ nuts. “I’m in deep shit, Alex, ’cause I think I’d like nothin’ better than to wake up with her every mornin’. ”

  “You’re right, Carlos. You are in deep shit. ”

  “How am I gonna get out of this thing with Devlin?”

  “I don’t know. I’m as clueless as you at this point, but I know who might be able to help us. ”

  “Who?”

  “I’ll tell you in the mornin’. In the meantime, shut up and let me sleep. ”

  My cell phone goes off, the beeping sound echoing loudly throughout the small apartment.

  “Who the hell is callin’ you at this hour?” Alex demands to know. “Is it Devlin?”

  I read the text and laugh. “No. It’s a text from your ex-girlfriend. ”

  Alex practically jumps out of bed and snatches my phone from me. “What did she say? Why is she textin’ you?”

  “Keep your pants on, bro. She asked me how my date was, and I texted her back before I came to your place. I didn’t know she was gonna respond right away. ”

  “She wants to know if I’m as miserable as she is,” Alex says, reading Brittany’s text.

  The glow of the screen on his face reveals it all. He’s still hopelessly and disgustingly in love with Brittany. I’d make fun of him if I didn’t think I had the same look on my face when I woke up with Kiara’s naked body pressed against mine and I realized that I’d rather die than live one day without her. I haven’t known her long at all, but just lookin’ at her feels so right. Being with her feels like . . . home. It may not make sense to anyone else, but it does to me.

  “Yo, Alex, just text back that you’re a complete mess, and that you’ll do anythin’ to get her back . . . even if it means havin’ dinner with her stupid parents and kissin’ her pearly white ass for the next seventy or so years. ”

  “What do you know about relationships, or pearly white asses? Forget it. I don’t want to know the answer to that question. ” He walks into the bathroom with my phone and closes the door.

  As long as he’s not in the room, I might as well take advantage of his empty bed. He’ll be in the bathroom awhile, texting his ex-girlfriend until she’s his girlfriend again. I guess it didn’t hurt that I was sure to text her just before I came here, knowing she’s probably awake and as miserable as my brother is.

  Back at the dock when I stroked Kiara’s long hair as she fell asleep in my arms, a paralyzing fear washed over me. I realized that what I had with Destiny wasn’t anything compared to what I have with Kiara. It scared me, and I panicked. I just needed to get away from her to process everything, because being near her makes me fantasize about a future with Kiara instead of focusing on reality— that I’m leaving Colorado at the end of the month. As Keno said, there’s really no other choice.

  The next thing I know, Alex is shaking me. “Get up,” he orders.

  “I need a few more hours of sleep,” I tell him.

  “You can’t,” he says. “It’s already noon. And you got a message. ”

  Brittany again. Those two better get back together so I have one less thing to worry about. “I told you to text her and let her know you’ll do anythin’ to get her back. ”

  “The message wasn’t from Brit. ”

  I open one eye. “From Kiara?”

  He shrugs. “You did get one text from Kiara. ”

  I bolt upright, the sudden movement giving me a nasty head rush. “What did she want?”

  “She wanted to know if you were okay. I texted her back and said you slept here last night, and you were still sleeping. But you got a voice mail message from Devlin. He wants to meet with you tonight. ”

  I rub the knot of tension forming on the back of my neck. “Well, I guess that’s it, then. No use thinkin’ he forgot about me. He spent a lot of energy recruitin’ me. I don’t see a way out, Alex. ”

  “There’s always a way out. ” He tosses me a towel. “Take a shower and get dressed. You can wear my clothes. Hurry up, we don’t have much time. ”

  Alex drives me to the Boulder campus. I follow him into one of the buildings, but freeze when we get to a door marked RICHARD WESTFORD, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY.

  “Why are we here?” I ask my brother.

  “Because he can help us. ” Alex knocks on the Professor’s door.

  “Come in,” he says. Westford looks up when we enter his office. “Hey, boys. I trust you and Kiara had a good time last night. Colleen told me she was still sleeping this morning when I left the house, so I didn’t have a chance to ask her. ”

  “It was fun,” I mumble. “Kiara is—”

  “A handful sometimes, I know. She definitely keeps us on our toes. ”

  “I was gonna say amazin’,” I tell him. “Your daughter is amazin’. ”

  “I can’t take all the credit. Colleen has done an incredible job raising the kids. Kiara just needed to come out of her shell a bit. It was nice of you to take her. I know she really appreciated it. Now, I’m sure Alex didn’t want to meet me here just to shoot the breeze. What’s on your minds?”

  “Tell him what you told me,” Alex orders.

  “Why?”

  “ ’Cause he’s hard-core. ”

  I take a look at the balding Westford. Hard-core, my ass. Maybe he used to be, but not now. He’s a shrink now, and no longer a soldier.

  “Just do it,” Alex says, getting impatient.

  I’m out of options, so I might as well tell him. Maybe Westford can come up with somethin’ I haven’t thought of. Unlikely, but it’s worth a try.

  “You know when I got beat up and I told you I got jumped near the mall?”

  He nods.

  “I lied. Truth is . . . ” I look over at Alex, who’s urging me on. “I got recruited by this guy named Devlin. ”

  “I know who Devlin is,” the Professor says. “I never met the guy, but I’ve heard about him. He’s into drug smuggling. ” His eyes narrow, and I detect a little bit of that hard-core personality trying to shine through. “You’d better not be dealing drugs for Devlin. ”

  “That’s my problem,” I tell the Professor. “It’s either I deal drugs, or he kills me. At this point I’d rather deal drugs than die. ”

  “You’re not doing either,” Westford says.

  “Devlin’s a businessman who only car
es about the bottom line. ”

  “Bottom line, huh?” Westford leans back in his chair, those wheels in his brain working overtime. The chair tips so far back he has to quickly grab on to his desk so he doesn’t tumble backward. The Professor is hard-core, all right. All the way down to his designer penny loafers.

  “Any suggestions?” Alex asks. “We’re out of ideas. ”

  Westford holds up a finger. “I might be able to help. When are you supposed to meet with him?”

  “Tonight. ”

  “I’m going with you,” Westford says.

  “Me too,” Alex chimes in.

  “Oh, goodie. We’re startin’ our own little renegados gang. ” I give a short laugh. “You can’t just walk up to Devlin. ”

  “Watch me,” Westford says. “No matter what it takes, we’ll get you out. ”

  Is this guy kiddin’ me? He’s not my flesh and blood. He should think of me as a burden and liability instead of someone worth fighting for.

  “Why are you doin’ this?” I ask him.

  “Because my family cares about you. Listen, Carlos, I think it’s about time I tell you about my past so you know where I’m coming from. ”

  Oh, I gotta hear this.

  I lean back in the chair, ready to get a long drawn-out sob story about how his parents were mean to him because they didn’t buy him the exact toy he’d asked for on his sixth birthday. Or the fact that a kid in high school beat him up for his lunch money. Maybe he was upset because his parents bought him a used car instead of a brand-new one when he turned sixteen. Does the Professor expect me to actually feel sorry for him? I can beat him in the sob-story department, hands down.

  Westford shifts in his desk chair uncomfortably, then lets out a long breath. “My parents and brother died in a car accident when I was eleven. ” Whoa. I wasn’t expectin’ that. “We were driving home one night, it was snowing, and my dad lost control of the car. ”

  Wait. “You were in the car, too?”

  He nods. “I remember him swerving, then the car spinning. ” He hesitates. “Then the truck colliding with the car. I can still hear my mom’s screams as she saw the big headlights aiming right at her, and my brother looking to me as if I could somehow help. ”

  He clears his throat and swallows, and my cockiness over winning the game of “whose childhood was worse” starts to fade quickly.

  “After the impact, when my body stopped jerking around like a rag doll, I opened my eyes and saw blood splattered all over the car. I wasn’t even sure if it was mine or my parents’ . . . or my brother’s. ” His eyes are glassy now, but he doesn’t shed a tear. “It was like he was in pieces, Carlos. Even though I thought I would die if I moved because of the pain I was in, I needed to save him. I needed to save all of them. I held the gash in my brother’s side together for as long as I could, the hot, fresh blood streaming all over my hands. The paramedics had to pry my hands off him, because I wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t let him die. He was just seven, a year older than Brandon. ”

 
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