Rules of attraction, p.40
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       Rules of Attraction, p.40

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 40


  “They all died except you?”

  He nods. “I didn’t have relatives who could take me in, so I spent the next seven years bouncing from foster home to foster home. ” He stares right into my eyes. “Actually, I got kicked out of most of them. ”

  “For what?”

  “You name it. Fighting, drugs, running away . . . basically, I was in need of some understanding and guidance, but nobody was willing or had the time to straighten me out. Eventually I turned eighteen and was put out on the streets. I found my way to Boulder, where there were plenty of kids like me. But living on the streets was dirty, and I was alone and had no money. One day I was begging for money and this man sneered at me and said, ‘Does your mother know where you are and what you’re doing with your life?’ At that moment I thought about it. If my mother up in heaven was looking down at me, she’d be pissed as hell at me for not trying to make something better out of myself.

  “But I realized that no amount of fighting would bring back my family,” he continues. “No amount of drugs would completely erase the look in my brother’s eyes begging me to help him. And I could never run away from that image, because running away just made things worse. I refocused that energy in the military. ”

  “I don’t want you to risk your life for me, Professor. It’s bad enough I want to date your daughter. ”

  “We’ll have that discussion another time. Now let’s focus on the problem we’ve got right now. When are you supposed to meet with Devlin?” Westford asks. Determination is radiating off the guy.

  We agree to meet at seven and put some sort of plan in motion. What that actual plan is, I have no clue. Hopefully by seven o’clock tonight Westford will figure it out. Truth is, it’s a relief to finally put my life in the hands of someone I trust.



  My mom is making pancakes for breakfast on Monday morning. “What are you still doing home?” I ask.

  “I’ve got some employees opening the store. ” She smiles warmly, that sweet smile that always made me feel better when I had to stay home sick in grade school. “It’ll be nice see you and Brandon and get you off to school for a change. ”

  “Have you or Dad talked to Carlos?” I ask for about the trillionth time since yesterday. Both of my parents have been acting strange since my dad came home from work yesterday. He locked himself in his office with my mom for hours. The two of them have seemed on edge since then, and I can’t figure out why.

  Carlos told me he was going to Alex’s place, right before he told me he loved me. I wish he was here so he could assure me everything will be okay between us, but I know he needed to get away and figure things out in his own head.

  The problem is, I never eased his biggest fear. He needs to know I’m not going to suddenly give up on him or give up on us. I wish I could have talked to him before school today, but that didn’t happen. He hasn’t been back since he dropped me off early Sunday morning.

  I watch my mom as she vigorously mixes the pancake batter faster in her bowl. “I’m not sure. ”

  “What does that mean?”

  “It means I don’t want to talk about it. ”

  I walk over and put my hand on her arm, stopping her from mixing. “What’s going on, Mom? You have to tell me. ” I swallow, hard. I won’t stand back and have the boy I love live in misery because he loves me back. It’s not worth it. I would give him up if it meant making him happy. “I need to know. ”

  When she looks at me, her eyes are watery. Something is definitely up. “Your father said he’s taking care of it. I’ve trusted him for the past twenty years. I’m not going to stop now. ”

  “Does it have to do with Carlos? Does it have to do with him getting beat up? Is he in danger?”

  My mom puts her hand on my cheek. “Kiara, honey, go to school. I’m sorry I’m a little tense this morning. It will all be over soon. ”

  “What’s going to be over, Mom?” I ask in a panic. “Just t-t-tell me. ”

  She stands back, obviously contemplating the consequences of spilling whatever secret she’s holding. “Your father said he’s handling it. He had a long talk with Tom and David yesterday, his buddies from the military who work in the DEA’s office. ”

  “I feel sick,” I say.

  “It will be fine, Kiara. Now get ready for school, and don’t say one word about this to anyone. ”

  “Is breakfast ready?” my brother asks as he walks in the kitchen.

  My mom goes back to mixing. “Almost. We’re having whole-wheat pancakes. ”

  Brandon gives her his famous pouty face, the one nobody in our house can resist. I wonder if that look will ever get old. Knowing Brandon, he’ll still be using it when he’s fifty. “Can you put chocolate chips in them? Pleeeeease. ”

  My mom sighs, then kisses his big cheeks. “Okay, but put on your shoes so you’re not late for the bus. ”

  As she ladles the batter into the hot pan, I walk into my dad’s office. I know it’s terrible of me, and it’s totally inappropriate, but I sit in front of my dad’s computer and browse his history. First on the Internet and then in each of his document folders. If there’s some clue to what’s going on, I need to know. And since nobody will tell me, I have no choice but to snoop around and investigate, myself.

  Unfortunately for my dad, but fortunately for me, he didn’t erase his history. I pull up everything he’s worked on in the past twenty-four hours. I look at a letter he wrote to his boss about introducing a new curriculum, an outline of the test he’s working on for his class, and a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers on it.

  I study the spreadsheet. It’s a financial one . . . detailing one of their bank accounts. The last entry is from today—a debit for fifty thousand dollars—leaving my parents with a balance of five thousand dollars. In the description line is one word: CASH.

  My dad is taking fifty thousand dollars out of his bank account today. Somehow that money is connected to Carlos getting beat up, I just know it.

  “Kiara, the pancakes are ready!” my mom yells from the kitchen.

  Obviously she’s not going to tell me why my dad is taking a whopping fifty thousand dollars out of their bank account. I play innocent, eating my pancakes with a fake carefree smile on my face.

  As soon as we’re finished with breakfast, my mom rushes Brandon outside to his bus. I quickly sneak back onto my dad’s computer because I have one more idea: I go to the maps website my dad usually uses and click on his recent searches.

  Sure enough, the last two searches are addresses unfamiliar to me. One is near Eldorado Springs and the other is in Brush, a town that’s about an hour and a half away from my house. I know there are a lot of drug problems there, and my heart sinks. What’s going on? I quickly scribble down the addresses, then close the computer and try to look innocent when my mom comes back in the house.

  At school, I open my locker and find two roses lying on top of my books, one red and one yellow. They’re bound together by a black-beaded rosary and a note. There’s no doubt in my mind they’re from Carlos.

  I kneel in front of my locker and read the note, written on a torn piece of notebook paper.

  “Is that Kiara Westford?” Tuck says, coming up to me. “The one who doesn’t call me back?”

  I clutch the flowers, rosary, and note to my chest. “Hi. Sorry, things have been crazy. ”

  His eyebrows furrow. “What are you holding?”

  “Stuff. ”

  “From the Mexican stud?”

  I look down at the beautiful flowers. “He’s in t-t-trouble, Tuck. My dad’s with him, and my mom is acting weird, and I need to help somehow. I can’t just be left in the dark, when they’re all in d-d-danger. I feel so useless. I just . . . don’t know what to d-d-do. ” I don’t even realize it at first, but I’m rubbing the rosary beads with my fingers.

  Tuck pulls me into one of the empty classrooms. “What kind of trouble? Stop shaking, you’re
scaring me. ”

  “I c-c-can’t help it. I think it has to do with Carlos and some drug dealers. I’m freaking out because my dad thinks he’s Rambo and can fix this. The DEA might be involved, too. I have a feeling he’s in over his head, Tuck. I don’t even know who this drug dealer guy is, except that after Carlos got beat up he referred to him as The Devil, in Spanish—El Diablo. ”

  “El Diablo?” Tuck shakes his head. “Doesn’t mean anything to me. You know who you should talk to?”

  “Who?” I ask.

  “Ram Garcia. His mom works in the DEA’s office. She came to talk to us a while back about her job. ”

  I kiss Tuck on the cheek. “You’re a genius, Tuck!” I say, then run off to find Ram.

  A half hour later I’m sitting opposite Mrs. Garcia, Ram’s mom. She’s wearing a navy pantsuit and a crisp, white shirt, looking very much like a DEA agent. When Ram gave me her number, I snuck out to my car and called her. I told her everything I know. I’ve never ditched school before, but then again, I’ve never been so worried about my dad and Carlos before.

  Mrs. Garcia just got off the phone with my mom. “She’s on her way,” she tells me. “But you’re going to have to stay here for a few hours. I can’t let you leave this building. ”

  “I don’t get it,” I tell her. “Why?”

  “Because you know the address in Brush. Your knowledge could put a lot of people in danger. ” Mrs. Garcia sighs, then leans forward on her desk, piled high with manila file folders. “To be quite blunt, Kiara, your father, Carlos, and Alex have stumbled into something we’ve been working on for months. ”

  “Please tell me they’re not in danger,” I beg, my heart pounding faster and faster.

  “We’ve got word to our undercover special agents working inside the gang that your father and the Fuentes brothers are to be protected. They’re as safe as they can be on the brink of a DEA drug raid, and your father will take all necessary precautions. ”

  “How do you know that?”

  “Your father has worked with us before on some criminal profiling and undercover ops,” she says. “He’s keeping the operation a secret from Carlos and Alex for their protection. The less they know, the better. ”

  What? My dad has worked with the DEA? For how long? He never mentioned anything before. I always see him as my dad, not some guy who does undercover work with the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency. All I knew was that he had friends from the military who he kept in touch with and went out with occasionally.

  Mrs. Garcia can probably see the confusion written all over my face, because she leaves her desk and crouches in front of me. “Your father was in some heavy-duty combat missions with some of our agents. He’s well respected, and he knows what he’s doing. ” She looks at her watch. “All I can tell you is that we’ve got them under constant surveillance, and our agents working on the inside are highly trained. ”

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