Rules of attraction, p.9
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       Rules of Attraction, p.9
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         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 9

 

  On Thursday, Carlos isn’t even at lunch. Neither is Madison. The happy couple must be off by themselves somewhere.

  On Friday morning, Carlos is at his locker, the cookies still stuck on the inside. “Hey,” he says.

  “Hey,” I say back.

  I enter my combination, but the locker won’t open.

  I try again. I know I have the numbers right, but when I pull the handle, it doesn’t budge.

  I try again.

  Carlos is looking over my shoulder. “Havin’ trouble?”

  “No. ”

  I try again. This time, I pull the handle harder and jiggle it. Again, nothing happens.

  He taps his fingers on the metal. “Maybe you forgot the combination. ”

  “I know my combination,” I say. “I’m not stupid. ”

  “You sure? ’Cause that’s a turn-on. ”

  My thoughts turn to the rumors about him and Madison. I don’t even know why, but the idea of them hooking up fuels my anger. “Just go away. ”

  He shrugs. “If you say so. ” The first bell rings. “Well, good luck. If you ask me, it looks like someone rigged it. ” He grabs his books out of his locker and struts down the hallway.

  I run after him and grab his arm. “What did you do to my locker?”

  He stops. “I might have changed the combination. ”

  “How?”

  He chuckles. “If I tell you, then I’d have to kill you. ”

  “Very funny. Tell me what you changed it to. ”

  “I will totally give you that information . . . ” He taps the tip of his forefinger on my nose. “When every last cookie is out of my locker. Includin’ all the crumbs. See ya,” he says, ducking into the classroom and leaving me alone in the hallway to figure out how I’m going to do it . . . and then plot my next move.

  In English class, Mr. Furie hands back our essays. He calls out our names and one by one we have to go up to his desk.

  “Kiara,” he calls out.

  I walk up to get my paper. When Mr. Furie hands it to me, he’s not smiling. “You can do a lot better than this, Kiara. I know you can. Dig deeper next time, and don’t try to give me the answer you think I want. ”

  I pass Madison on the way back to my desk. “How’s Carlos?” she asks.

  “Fine. ”

  “You know he only pays attention to you because he feels sorry for you. It’s kind of sad, if you think about it. ”

  I ignore her and sit at my desk. A big, red C is written on the front of the paper Mr. Furie just gave back to me. Not good, especially if I’m going to apply for an academic scholarship.

  “For the next fifteen minutes, you’re going to write a persuasion paper,” Mr. Furie says.

  “About what?” Nick Glass asks.

  “The topic is . . . ” Mr. Furie pauses, obviously to heighten the anticipation and get the attention of all the students. He sits on the edge of his desk and says, “Should people on reality shows be considered celebrities?”

  The class starts buzzing about the topic.

  “Keep the noise level to a minimum, people. ”

  “How can we write a persuasion paper when we don’t have time to do research?” someone in the back of the class asks.

  “I’m looking for your thoughts, not research. When you’re talking with a friend and you need to persuade him to do something, or to change his opinion, you can’t say, ‘Hold on, I need to do research or write down statistics. ’ You just come up with arguments off the top of your head. That’s what I’m asking you to do. ”

  Mr. Furie wanders around the room as we write. “If you want extra credit, you can read the paper aloud to the class. ”

  That’s good. I need extra credit, and I know I can say my speech without stuttering. I just know I can.

  “Pens down,” Mr. Furie orders fifteen minutes later. He clasps his hands together. “Okay, any volunteers to read first?”

  I raise my hand high.

  “Ms. Westford, come on up and share your thoughts. ”

  “Oh, no. Not her,” I hear Madison groan beside me. Lacey laughs, along with a bunch of their friends.

  “Do you have a problem, Madison?”

  “No, Mr. Furie. I almost broke a nail!” She wiggles her manicured fingers at him.

  “Please save your nail issues for after class. Kiara, come on up. ”

  I pick up my paper and walk to the front of the class. I tell myself to take deep breaths and think about the words before they come out of my mouth. When I’m standing in front, I look over at my teacher. He’s smiling warmly at me. “Go ahead. ”

  I clear my throat. And swallow, but feel my tongue getting thicker before I even start talking, because of Madison. She’s thrown me off, but I can overcome it. I don’t have to give her power over my stuttering. Relax. Think about the words. Don’t forget to breathe.

  “I th-th-think . . . ” I stare down at my paper. I can feel all eyes on me. Some are probably giving me the pity stare. Others, like Madison and Lacey, probably look amused. “I th-th-think that p-p-people on r-r-reality shows . . . ”

  A burst of laughter erupts from one girl. I know who it is before I look up.

  “Madison, I don’t find this funny. Be respectful to your classmate,” Mr. Furie says, then adds, “That’s not a request. That’s an order. ”

  Madison puts her hand over her mouth. “I’m good,” she says through her fingers.

  “You’d better be,” Mr. Furie says in his stern voice. “Go ahead, Kiara. Continue. ”

  Okay. I can do this. If I can talk to Tuck and not stutter, maybe I should just pretend I’m talking to Tuck. I look up at my best friend. He gives me a small wave of encouragement from his seat in the back of the room.

  “. . . people on reality shows are celebrities . . . ” I pause and take a deep breath, then continue. I can do this. I can do this. “. . . because we let the m-m-media—”

  Another burst of laughter echoes in the room, this time from both Lacey and Madison.

  “Miss Stone and Miss Goebbert!” Mr. Furie points toward the door. “Out of my class. ”

  “You’re not serious,” Madison argues.

  “I’ve never been more serious. And I’m also giving you and Miss Goebbert three days of after-school detention starting today. ”

  “Don’t do that,” I whisper to Mr. Furie, hoping no one else can hear me. “Please don’t do that. ”

  Madison gets a shocked look on her face. “You’re giving us detentions for laughing? Come on, Mr. Furie. That’s not fair. ”

  “Tell it to Principal House if you have a problem with my punishment. ” Mr. Furie opens the top drawer of his desk and pulls out two blue detention slips. He fills out both and motions for Madison and Lacey to come get them. Both girls shoot me a furious look. Oh, no, this is not good. Now I’m on Madison’s radar, and I don’t know if there’s any way I can get off it.

  When he hands them the blue slips, Madison shoves hers in her purse. “I can’t have detention after school. I have to work at my mom’s boutique. ”

  “You should have thought about that before you disrupted my class. Now, both of you, apologize to Kiara,” our teacher orders.

  “That’s okay,” I mumble. “You d-d-don’t have to. ”

  “Oh, I insist. We’re s-s-s-s-sorry,” Madison says, and suddenly Madison and Lacey start giggling again. Even after they hurry out the door, I can hear their laughter echoing as they walk down the hall.

  “I apologize on their behalf for their inappropriate behavior, Kiara,” Mr. Furie says. “Would you still like to share your paper?”

  I shake my head and he sighs, but he doesn’t argue when I return to my desk. I wish the bell would ring so I could go to the girls’ bathroom and hide. I’m so mad at myself for letting them affect me.

  For the next twenty-five minutes, Mr. Furie calls on other students to read their persuasion papers. I keep looking up at the clock, praying
for the minutes to go by faster. It’s hard holding back tears that are threatening to pour out any minute.

  As soon as the bell rings, I grab my books and practically sprint out of class. Mr. Furie calls my name, but I pretend not to hear him.

  “Kiara!” Tuck says, grabbing my elbow and spinning me around.

  A stupid tear falls down my face. “I want to be alone,” I choke out, then run down the hall.

  At the end of the corridor, there are stairs that lead to a vacant locker room rival teams use during tournaments. Nobody uses it during the day, and just the thought of being alone where I don’t have to put on a fake smile sounds like heaven right now. I’m aware I’ll be late for study hall, but Mrs. Hadden doesn’t usually take attendance and even if she does, I don’t care. I don’t want everyone to see me an emotional mess.

  I push open the locker room door and sink onto one of the benches. All the energy I used during the last half of English class to stop myself from losing it rushes out of me. I wish I could be stronger and not care what people think, but I do. I’m not strong like Tuck. I’m not strong like Madison.

  I wish I was content just being me, Kiara Westford, speech issues and all.

  Fifteen minutes pass before I walk to the sink and look at my reflection in the mirror. I look like I’ve been crying. That, or I have a very bad cold. I wet paper towels and dab them on my eyes, attempting to erase the puffiness. After a few minutes, I think I look halfway decent. Nobody will know I’ve just been crying. I hope.

  The door to the locker room opens, startling me.

  “Anybody here?” one of the janitors yells out.

  “Yeah. ”

  “You’d better get to class because the police are here. They’re doing a drug search. ”

  11

  Carlos

  In bio, Shevelenko finishes a lecture on dominant and recessive genes. She has us draw square boxes and tells us to write different scenarios about eye-color traits in the offspring of humans.

  “I’m havin’ a couple guys over tonight,” Ram says as we work. “You wanna come?”

  Even though Ram is a rich kid, he’s pretty cool. The past week he’s given me notes from the first two weeks of school, and his stories about going skiing last winter are hilarious.

  “¿A qué hora?” I ask him.

  “Around six or so. ” He rips out a piece of paper from his notebook and starts writing on it. “Here’s my address. ”

  “I don’t have a car. Is it far?”

  He turns the paper over and hands me his pen. “No problem, I’ll just pick you up. Where do you live?”

  As I write down Alex’s address, Shevelenko walks over to our table. “Carlos, did you get all the notes from Ramiro?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Good, because there’s a test next week. ” She’s handing out worksheets when five beeps echo over the loudspeaker.

  The entire room seems to gasp at once.

  “What’s that?” I question.

  Ram looks shocked. “Holy shit, man. We’re in lockdown. ”

 
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