Rules of attraction, p.5
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       Rules of Attraction, p.5

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 5


  “Yeah, right. ” She nods at Ram’s table. “Go sit with Ram. I saw him waving you over. ”

  I give her a shocked look. “Are you actually givin’ me permission to sit with him?”

  “You can sit with me,” she says, as if that’s an option I’d jump at.

  “No, thanks. ”

  “That’s what I thought. ”

  While Kiara stands in the hot-lunch line, I walk over to Ram’s table. I straddle the back of a chair as Ram introduces me to his friends, all white dudes that look like clones of one another. They’re talking about girls and sports and their fantasy football teams. I doubt any of them would survive one day at the sugar mill back in Mexico. Some of my friends made less than fifteen dollars a day. These guys’ watches probably cost more than some of my friends’ yearly salaries.

  Madison appears at our table when Ram goes back to the cafeteria line. “Hey, guys,” she says. “My parents are going out of town this weekend. I’m having a party on Friday night if y’all want to come. Just don’t tell Ram about it. ”

  Madison reaches into her purse and pulls out a tube of lip gloss. She dips the wand in a bunch of times, then puckers up and places it on her lips. Just when I think she’s done, her lips form a perfect O and she swirls the wand around and around. I check to see if anyone else is following the erotic lip-gloss show. Sure enough, two of Ram’s friends have stopped talking and are totally focused on Madison and her special talent. Ram comes back and is totally focused on eating his slice of pepperoni pizza.

  The smack of Madison’s lips brings my attention back to her. “Carlos, let me write down my info for you,” she says, then pulls out a pen and grabs my arm. She starts writing her phone number and address on my forearm above my tats as if she’s an artist. When she’s done, she waves by wiggling her fingers, then walks away to sit with her friends.

  I take a bite of my sandwich and scan the cafeteria, searching for Kiara, the anti-Madison. She’s sitting with a guy with shaggy blond hair that falls in his face. The dude is about my height, my build. Is he her boyfriend? If he is, I feel sorry for him. Kiara is the kind of girl who would expect her boyfriend to be submissive and kiss her ass.

  My body and mind aren’t wired to be submissive, and you’ll find me dead before you find me kissin’ anyone’s ass.



  “So how was being a peer guide?” my mom asks me at the dinner table. “I know you were looking forward to it this morning. ”

  “Not the best,” I answer as I hand my little brother a third napkin because he’s got spaghetti sauce all over his face.

  I think back to the end of eighth period, when I showed up to Carlos’s class only to find he’d already left for the day. “Carlos ditched me twice. ”

  Dad, a psychologist who thinks people are specimens to be analyzed, furrows his brows as he scoops up a second helping of green beans. “Ditch you? Why would he do that?”

  Um . . . “Because he thinks he’s too cool to be escorted around school. ”

  My mom pats my hand. “Ditching your peer guide is not cool at all, but be patient with him. He’s been displaced. It’s not easy. ”

  “Your mom’s right. Don’t be too judgmental, Kiara,” my dad says. “He’s probably just trying to find out where he fits in. Alex stopped in my office after class and we had a long talk. Poor kid. He’s just twenty himself, and now he’s responsible for a seventeen-year-old. ”

  “Why don’t you invite Carlos over tomorrow after school?” Mom suggests.

  Dad points his fork at her. “That’s a great idea. ”

  I’m sure the last thing Carlos wants to do is come to my house. He’s made it perfectly clear he’s just tolerating me this week because he has to. Once my peer guide job is done on Friday, he’s probably going to have a party to celebrate. “I don’t know. ”

  “Do it,” Mom says, ignoring my hesitation. “I’ll make cookies from this new orange-marmalade recipe Joanie gave me. ”

  I’m not sure Carlos will appreciate orange-marmalade cookies, but . . . “I’ll ask him. But don’t be surprised if he says no. ”

  “Don’t be surprised if he says yes,” Dad says, always the optimist.

  The next morning, as I’m escorting Carlos to class between third and fourth period, I finally gather up enough nerve to ask, “Do you want to come over after school?”

  His eyebrows go up. “You askin’ me out?”

  I grit my teeth. “Don’t flatter yourself. ”

  “Good, ’cause you’re not my type. I like my women sexy and stupid. ”

  “You’re not my type, either,” I snap back. “I like my guys smart and funny. ”

  “I’m funny. ”

  I shrug. “Maybe I’m just too smart to get your jokes. ”

  “Then why do you want me to come over?”

  “My mom . . . made cookies. ” I cringe after the words leave my mouth. Who invites a guy over for cookies? Maybe my brother does, but he’s in kindergarten. “It’s not like it’ll be a date or anything,” I blurt out in case he thinks I’m secretly trying to hit on him. “Just . . . cookies. ”

  I wish I could rewind this entire conversation, but there’s no going back now.

  We reach the door to his classroom, and he still hasn’t answered.

  “I’ll think about it,” he says, then leaves me out in the hall by myself.

  He’ll think about it? As if coming over to my house would be doing me a huge favor instead of the other way around?

  At our lockers at the end of the day, when I hope he’s forgotten I even asked him over, he leans his weight on one foot and stuffs his hands in his front pockets. “What kind of cookies?”

  Out of all the questions in the world, why did he have to ask that one?

  “Orange,” I say. “Orange marmalade. ”

  He leans closer, as if I didn’t say it loud enough or clear enough. “Orange what?”

  “Marmalade. ”


  “Marmalade. ”

  I’m sorry, but there’s just no cool way to say the word “marmalade,” and all those m’s so close together make me sound goofy. At least I didn’t stutter.

  He nods. I can tell he’s trying to keep a straight face, but he can’t. He bursts out laughing. “Can you say it one more time?”

  “So you can make fun of me?”

  “Sí. It’s become the only thing I look forward to in life. Just so happens you’re an easy target. ”

  I slam my locker door shut. “Consider yourself officially uninvited. ” I walk away, but then remember that I’ve left all my homework in my locker and have to open it again. I quickly grab the three books I need, shove them in my backpack, and head out.

  “If they were double-chocolate chip, I would have come,” he calls after me, then laughs.

  Tuck is waiting for me in the senior parking lot. “What took you so long?”

  “I was arguing with Carlos. ”

  “Again? Listen, Kiara, it’s only Tuesday. You’ve got three more days with him. Why don’t you quit being his peer guide and be done with the misery. ”

  “Because that’s just what he wants,” I say as we get in my car and I drive out of the lot. “I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of one-upping me all the time. He’s so obnoxious. ”

  “There’s got to be something you can do to make him eat his words. ”

  Tuck’s words spark the perfect idea. “That’s it! Tuck, you’re a genius,” I say excitedly. I make a sharp U-turn.

  “Where are we going?” Tuck asks, then points behind us. “Your house is that way. ”

  “First we’re stopping at the grocery store and McGuckin’s Hardware. I need the ingredients for double-chocolate chip cookies. ”

  “Since when do you bake,” Tuck asks. “And why double-chocolate chip cookies?”

  I flash him a mischievous smile. “I’m going to use them to make Carlos eat his words. ”


  On Wednesday, I walk out of school and head over to the body shop to meet Alex. Just as I cross the street, a red Mustang pulls up beside me. Madison Stone is driving, her windows wide open. When I get closer she asks where I’m goin’.

  “McConnell’s—the place where my brother works,” I tell her. He said I could help him to make some extra cash.

  “Hop in. I’ll drive you. ”

  Madison orders her friend Lacey into the backseat and tells me to sit in front, next to her. I’ve never lived in a place where you’re not judged by the color of your skin or your parents’ bank accounts, so I’m wary of Madison’s immediate interest in me. Hell, I put on the charm for Kiara before Heavy Shevy’s class and she didn’t even bat an eyelash or attempt to loosen those pursed lips. All I got was a disgusted gasp. Although yesterday she invited me over for cookies. Orange-marmalade cookies. Who the hell invites someone over for orange-marmalade cookies? The funniest part about it was that I think she was serious. Today she walked me from class to class without saying a damn word to me. I even tried to goad her into talkin’ by making fun of her, but she refused to take the bait.

  Madison punches in the address to McConnell’s on her GPS.

  “So, Carlos,” Lacey says, leaning between the seats as Madison starts driving. She taps me on the shoulder as if I didn’t hear her. “Is it true you got expelled from your last school for beating someone up?”

  I’ve only been in school three days, and already people are talkin’. “Actually it was three guys and a pit bull,” I joke, but I think she takes me seriously because her mouth opens in shock.

  “Wow!” She taps me again. “They allow dogs in school in Mexico?”

  Lacey is dumber than a beanless burrito. “Oh, yeah. Pit bulls and Chihuahuas only, though. ”

  “Wouldn’t it be great if I could bring Puddles to school!” She taps me on the shoulder again. I’m tempted to tap her back a ton of times so she knows how annoying it is. “Puddles is my Labradoodle. ”

  What the hell is a Labradoodle? whatever it is, I bet my cousin Lana’s pit bull could eat Puddles the Labradoodle for lunch.

  “So is your brother the guy who brought you to school on Monday when you registered?” Madison asks.

  “Yeah,” I answer as we pull into the parking lot of the auto body.

  “My friend Gina told me she saw the two of you in the office. Were your parents out of town?”

  “I live with my brother. The rest of my family is back in Mexico. ” No need to go into my whole life story about how my father died in a drug deal when I was four and how miamá practically kicked me out and shipped me here.

  Madison looks shocked. “You live with your brother? No parents?”

  “No parents. ”

  “You’re so lucky,” Lacey says. “My parents are around all the time, and my sister is a complete psycho, but I escape to Madison’s most days because she’s an only child and her p’s are never home. ”

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