Rules of attraction, p.7
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       Rules of Attraction, p.7

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 7


  He stops eating and puts down his fork. “I thought you were still sleepin’. ”

  “I wasn’t. ” The image of his badly scarred back, full of what looks like whip marks, is etched into my brain. When I noticed the bulging skin between his shoulder blades with the letters LB permanently branded into him like a head of cattle, my skin crawled with hateful anger and thoughts of revenge.

  “Just forget it,” Alex says.

  “Not gonna happen. ” Alex isn’t the only Fuentes brother who feels a fierce protectiveness toward his family. If I go back to Chicago and find the asshole responsible for branding Alex’s body, he’s a dead man. I might rebel against mi familia, but they’re still my blood.

  Alex isn’t the only one with scars. I have more fights to my name than a professional boxer. Along with my scars, if Alex knew the tattoos on my back marked me a Guerrero, he’d shit a brick. I might be in Colorado, but I’m still connected.

  “Brittany and I are goin’ to visit her sister Shelley tonight. Want to come?”

  I know Brittany’s sister is disabled and staying in some assisted-living place near the university. “I can’t. I’m goin’ out,” I tell Alex.

  “With who?”

  “Last time I checked, our papá was dead. I don’t have to answer to you. ”

  Alex and I stare each other down. He used to be able to kick my ass without even tryin’, but not anymore. We’re about to get into it again, but the door opens and Brittany walks in.

  She must realize there’s tension in the air, because her smile fades when she reaches the table. She puts her hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Everything okay?”

  “Everything’s perfecto. Right, Alex?” I say, then pick up my plate and weave my way around her to get to the kitchen.

  “No. I asked him a simple question, and he can’t even answer it,” Alex says.

  I swear that’s something that should only come out of a parent’s mouth. I let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m just goin’ to a party, Alex. It’s not like I’m goin’ out to murder someone. ”

  “A party?” Brittany asks.

  “Yeah. Ever hear of the concept?”

  “I’ve heard of it. I also know what goes on at parties. ” She sits next to Alex. “We went to parties in high school, though we learned from our mistakes, and he’ll learn from his. You can’t stop him from going out,” she tells my brother.

  Alex points to me accusingly. “You should see those girls he was hangin’ with the other day, Brittany. They’ve got that psycho Darlene written all over them. Remember her? That girl would have screwed the entire football team back in high school if it would have upped her popularity status. ”

  Once again my brother isn’t helping my cause. Thanks, bro.

  “Well, it was nice listenin’ to both of you discuss my life in front of me, but I’ve got to go. ”

  “How are you gettin’ there?” Alex asks.

  “Walkin’. Unless . . . ” I eye Brittany’s keys lying on top of her purse.

  “He can use my car,” she says to my brother. She doesn’t say it to me, because God forbid either my brother or she make a decision without the other one’s approval. “But no drinking. Or drugs. ”

  “Okay, Mom,” I say sarcastically.

  Alex shakes his head. “Not a good idea. ”

  She weaves her fingers through his. “It’s fine, Alex. Really. We were going to take the bus to visit my sister anyway. ”

  For a nanosecond I like my brother’s girlfriend, but then I remember how she controls his life, and that warm and fuzzy feeling disappears as fast as a streak of lightning.

  I pick up Brittany’s keys and twirl them in my hand. “Come on, Alex. Don’t make my shitty life worse than it already is. ”

  “Fine,” he says. “But bring that car back in perfect condition. Or else. ”

  I salute him. “Yes, sir. ”

  He pulls his cell phone out of his back pocket and tosses it to me. “And take this. ”

  Before either of them can change their mind, I head out the door. I forgot to ask where her car is parked, but it’s not hard to spot. The Beemer shines like an angel in front of the apartment building, calling to me.

  I reach into my back pocket and pull out a sheet of paper with Madison’s address on it. I wrote it down before I washed off my arm. After I figure out how to use the thing, I enter the address into the GPS, put the top down, and screech out of the parking lot. Finally . . . freedom.

  I park on the street and walk up the long driveway to Madison’s house. I know I have the right address because music is blarin’ out of the second-story window and kids are hangin’ out on the front lawn. The house is huge. At first I’m not sure if it’s one house or an entire apartment building until I get close and see that it’s just one big mansion. I step inside the monstrosity and recognize a bunch of kids from my classes.

  “Carlos is here!” a girl screeches. I pretend not to hear the echo of squeals that follow.

  Madison, wearing a short clingy black dress and carryin’ a can of Bud Light in her hand, weaves through the crowd and gives me a hug. I think she spilled beer on my back. “Omigod, you’re here. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “We need to set you up. Follow me. ”

  I follow her to a kitchen that looks like it came out of a magazine. It has stainless-steel appliances. Big granite slabs line the top of the counters. Next to the sink is a huge bin stuffed to the rim with ice and cans of beer. I reach in and grab one.

  “Is Kiara here?” I ask.

  Madison snorts. “As if. ”

  I guess that’s my answer.

  Madison wraps her hand around my elbow and leads me down a hallway and up a flight of stairs. “I have someone you have to meet. ” She stops when we reach a room off to the side, filled with five huge vintage arcade games, a pool table, and an air-hockey table.

  It’s a teen guy’s dream.

  It also reeks of pot. I think I’m gettin’ high just by inhalin’ the air.

  “It’s the rec room,” Madison explains.

  I’m sure it takes the definition of “recreation room” to a whole different level.

  A white guy is sitting on a brown leather couch, leaning back as if he’s content to stay in that position forever. He’s wearing a plain white T-shirt and black jeans and boots. I can tell he thinks he’s one cool dude. On a small table in front of him is a bong.

  “Carlos, this is Nick,” Madison says.

  Nick nods to me.

  I nod back. “ ’Sup. ”

  Madison sits next to Nick, picks up the bong and a lighter lying next to it, and takes a really long hit. Damn, that girl can inhale.

  “Nick wanted to meet you,” she tells me. I notice her eyes are bloodshot. I wonder how many hits she took before I got here.

  Lacey peeks her head in. “Madison, I need you!” she screeches. “Come here!”

  Madison tells us she’ll be right back and stumbles out of the room.

  Nick waves me to the couch beside him. “Take a seat. ”

  The guy is too slick, and my radar goes up. I know his game, because I’ve seen a hundred Nicks in my lifetime. Hell, I was a “Nick” back in Mexico.

  “You dealin’ the stuff ?” I ask.

  He chuckles. “If you’re buyin’ it, I’m dealin’ it. ” He holds out the bong. “Want a hit?”

  I hold up the can of beer in my hand. “Later. ”

  He narrows his eyes at me. “You’re not a narc, are you?”

  “Do I look like a narc?”

  He shrugs. “You never know. Narcs come in all different shapes and sizes these days. ”

  I immediately think of Kiara. She’s definitely become my daily entertainment. I try and peg her reactions every time I do my best to piss her off. Her rose-colored lips tighten into a thin line every time I make an outrageous comment or flirt with a girl. No matter what I told her, and no matter how many cookie crumbs
are scattered on the inside of my locker, I’m gonna miss havin’ her as my peer guide.

  I haven’t decided what I’m gonna do to get back at her for the cookie stunt. whatever it is, she’ll never see it comin’.

  “I hear Madison wants to get into your pants,” Nick says as he pulls out a bag of pills from his front pocket. He spills them out on the table.

  “Yeah?” I ask. “Where’d you hear that?”

  “From Madison. And you know what?”


  He pops a little blue pill into his mouth and throws back his head to swallow it. “Usually what Madison wants, Madison gets. ”



  “I’m color-blind,” Mr. Whittaker complains in a cranky, scratchy voice as he dips a paintbrush into a cup of brown paint and swipes it on the canvas. “Is this green? How am I supposed to paint anything when these colors aren’t labeled?”

  There’s never a dull moment during art class at The Highlands Long-Term Health Care Facility, otherwise known as a nursing home. The regular art teacher quit, but since I was volunteering to help during art hour I just kind of took over the class. The administration supplies the paint, and I come up with subjects for those who want a painting activity after dinner on Friday nights.

  As I rush over to Mr. Whittaker, a little old lady with stark white hair named Sylvia comes shuffling over to us. “He’s not color-blind,” Sylvia croaks out as she finds an empty easel and sits down. “He’s just plain ol’ blind. ”

  Mr. Whittaker looks up at me with his thin, weathered face as I kneel beside him and label the colors with a thick, black marker. “She’s just sore because I wouldn’t dance with her at the social last week,” he says.

  “I’m sore because you forgot to put your teeth in at dinner yesterday. ” She waves her hand in the air. “He was all gums. Some Casanova you are,” she says in a huff.

  “Hussy,” Mr. Whittaker growls.

  “Next time maybe you should dance with her at the social,” I say. “Make her feel young again. ”

  He reaches up with calloused, arthritic fingers and pulls me closer. “I’ve got two left feet. But don’t tell Sylvia that, because she’ll give me a hard time. ”

  “Don’t they have dance lessons here?” I whisper right into his ear, loud enough so he can hear but the rest of the class can’t.

  “I can hardly walk. A Fred Astaire I’ll never be. Now, if you were the dance teacher instead of that old bat Frieda Fitzgibbons, I’d definitely start coming to lessons. ” He waggles his overgrown white eyebrows at me and pats me on the butt.

  I shake my finger at him. “Didn’t anyone tell you that’s sexual harassment?” I tease.

  “I’m a dirty old man, honey. In my day there was no such thing as sexual harassment and women actually let men buy them sodas and open doors for them . . . and pinch their butts. ”

  “I let guys open doors for me, just as long as they don’t expect any favors in return. I could do without the butt-patting and pinching, though. ”

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