Rules of attraction, p.12
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       Rules of Attraction, p.12

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
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Page 12

 

  “Are we still talkin’ cars?” he asks.

  Brittany shakes her head. “I was talking fingernails. ”

  “I thought so. You stick to nails, I’ll stick to cars. ”

  The corner of Alex’s mouth quirks up as he pulls his girlfriend close.

  “I think we’re ready for lunch,” my dad yells from the front door.

  My mom waves to my brother. “Brandon, sweetie, show Brittany and Alex where the patio is. ”

  While Brandon races to the backyard, I help my mom in the kitchen.

  “You’ve got grease on your chin,” my mom tells me. I rub my chin, then realize it’s not grease. It’s black epoxy.

  “Now you’re smearing it. Here—” She tosses me a kitchen towel.

  “Thanks. ” After I wipe my chin clean, I wash my hands and then toss my special walnut salad.

  On the patio, my mom has set up pink flowery place mats and her favorite ceramic dishes painted with images of colorful butterflies that match the teacups. She opened up an organic tea store called Hospitali-Tea a few years ago. If you live in Boulder, bets are you like the outdoors and live an active lifestyle. And bets are you drink tea instead of coffee.

  Mom’s store is very popular with the locals. I work there on weekends bagging loose teas, logging in new teas, and pricing ceramic teapots. I even help with her accounting, especially when her calculations are off and she needs someone to find where she made a mistake. I’m the mistake-finder in the family, at least when it comes to doing the books.

  I help bring out the salad. I actually made up the recipe and have kept the dressing a secret so even my parents don’t know how to replicate it. It’s made with spinach leaves, walnuts, blue cheese, and dried cranberries . . . and “Kiara’s special, secret sauce,” as my mom likes to call it. When I get outside, I hold out the bowl to Carlos.

  He peers inside the bowl. “What is it?”

  “Salad. ”

  He peers inside again. “That’s not lettuce. ”

  “It’s s-spinach. ” I stop talking as I feel my tongue getting thicker.

  “Just try it,” Alex tells him.

  “I don’t need to be told what to do,” Carlos fires back.

  “Carlos, I have some lettuce in the fridge,” my mom chimes in. “I can throw a lettuce salad together quickly if you want. ”

  “No, thanks,” Carlos mutters.

  “I’d like some salad,” Brittany says, motioning for me to hand her the bowl. I don’t know if she really wants the spinach salad or not, but she’s trying hard to divert attention away from Alex and Carlos.

  I look over at my dad. He’s got his eyes on Carlos. He’s probably wondering how long it’ll take before he can get Carlos to loosen up and trust us. Problem is, I don’t know if Carlos will ever let his guard down now that he got arrested.

  “I know you’re here due to extenuating circumstances,” my mom says to Carlos as she passes around the plate of salmon burgers. “But we’re happy to offer our home and friendship. ”

  My dad stabs a burger with his fork. “Kiara can show you around Boulder this weekend. And introduce you to her friends. Right, sweetheart?”

  “Sure,” I say, although “my friends” consist of Tuck. I’m not one to hang out with a crowd. Tuck is a guy, but he’s my best friend and has been since freshman year when Heather Harte and Madison Stone laughed at me during English class when I was called on to read A Tale of Two Cities in front of the entire class. Not only did I embarrass myself with my stuttering, I think Dickens must have rolled over in his grave when I horrifically butchered his words. I stopped immediately after hearing them laugh, ran home, and didn’t come out of my room until Tuck came over and convinced me to face the world. Friday in Mr. Furie’s class brought me back to that day.

  “I think I got an undercooked burger. It’s really pink,” Carlos says as he stares at the inside of one of my mother’s salmon patties.

  “It’s fish,” I tell him. “Salmon. ”

  “There bones in it?”

  I shake my head.

  He picks out a bun from the breadbasket, examines it, then shrugs. I guess he’s not used to whole grains sticking out of his burger buns.

  “I have to go to work, but Kiara can take you grocery shopping tomorrow if you want,” my mom volunteers. “That way you can pick whatever you like. ”

  “Do you like sports, Carlos?” Brandon asks him.

  “Depends. ”

  “On what?”

  “Who’s playin’. I don’t watch tennis or golf, if that’s what you mean. ”

  “I’m not talking about watching sports, silly,” Brandon says, laughing at him. “I’m talking about playing them. My best friend, Max, plays tackle football, and he’s my age. ”

  “Good for him,” Carlos says as he takes a bite of the salmon burger.

  “Do you play football?” Brandon asks.

  “No. ”

  “Baseball?”

  “Nope. ”

  Brandon is on a roll and won’t stop until he’s found the answer he’s looking for. “Tennis?”

  “That would be a nada. ”

  “Then what sport do you play?”

  Carlos puts down his food. Oh, no. He’s got a rebellious gleam in his eye as he says, “The horizontal tango. ”

  My mom and Brittany start choking on their food. My dad says, “Carlos . . . ” in a warning tone he reserves for extreme instances.

  “Dancing really isn’t a sport,” Brandon tells Carlos, oblivious to the shock at the rest of the table.

  “It is when I do it,” Carlos says.

  Alex stands and says through clenched teeth, “Carlos, let’s talk. In private. Ahora. ”

  Alex walks into the house. I’m not sure Carlos is going to follow. He hesitates, then his chair scrapes the patio tiles and he heads inside. Oh, this is definitely not going to be pretty.

  Brittany puts her head in her hands. “Please tell me when they stop arguing. ”

  Brandon turns to my dad with big, innocent eyes. “Daddy, do you know how to do the horizontal tango?”

  15

  Carlos

  “Do you get off on being a pendejo?” my brother asks me when we’re in the kitchen, out of hearing range of the gringos.

  “Uh . . . yeah. I had the best teacher. Right, Alex?”

  Since our father was murdered when I was four, Alex was the oldest male in our house from the time he was six. He might be older than me, but there was nobody else to look up to but him.

  My brother leans against the kitchen counter and crosses his arms over his chest. “Here’s the deal: you got busted with drugs. I don’t give a shit if they were yours or not, you’re the one who got busted. So suck it up and live here without causin’ problems, or you get shipped to a youth home for delinquents with guards watchin’ your every move. Which is it?”

  “Why can’t I go back to Chicago? We’ve got family there. My old friends are there. ”

  “Not an option. ” Before I can respond, Alex says, “I don’t want you to get messed up with the Latino Blood. Besides, Destiny isn’t waiting for you, if that’s what you’re thinkin’. ”

  Destiny and I broke up the day my family packed and moved to Mexico. She said it was no use havin’ a long-distance relationship when we might never see each other again. Truth is, if it wasn’t for Alex we’d never have left Chicago. And if we never left Chicago, Destiny and I would have stayed together and I wouldn’t be stuck livin’ in a room with damn yellow polka-dotted curtains.

  I expect everyone in my life to leave me at some point. Since Destiny, I haven’t allowed myself to get emotionally involved with anyone. If I let myself care about someone, they’ll leave me, push me away, or die. That’s the way it’s been, and will always be.

  “I’ll stay here for now, but one day soon I’m gonna get back to Chicago, with or without your help. Just go back to your apartment and stay out of my life. ” I pus
h past my brother and storm up to my room, slamming the door behind me. But the yellow comforter is a reminder this is not my room. ¡Mierda!

  I’m glad Alex didn’t follow me. I need to be alone and sort out what happened on Friday. Who put the drugs in my locker? Was it Nick? Madison, who came to bio late? Or was it a sign from the Guerreros that no matter where I go they’re never far behind?

  Eyeing my duffel on the ground, I open it and put my clothes away. Actually I toss them in the drawers, not bothering to hang ’em up. I don’t wear clothes that have to be hung up, anyway. I take out my toothbrush and shaver and head to the bathroom across the hall. Assuming the sink with the step stool is Brandon’s, I decide to share with him. The last thing I need is to be opening a drawer only to find tampons, makeup, or other female crap.

  I stick my shaver and toothbrush in an empty drawer, the one without the cartoon-character bubble bath in it. In between the sinks, taped to the big mirror in front of them, is a small piece of paper.

  WEEKDAY MORNING SHOWER TIMES

  Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Kiara 6:25–6:35

  Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Carlos 6:40–6:50

  Tuesday, Thursday: Kiara 6:40–6:50

  Tuesday, Thursday: Carlos 6:25–6:35

  When should I break the news to Kiara that nobody is going to tell me how long my showers are? I’ve been known to take hour-long showers when I’m hot, sweaty, and pissed off. Like right about now.

  As if it wasn’t bad enough I got busted for somethin’ I didn’t do, now I have to share a house with a bunch of strangers who make salad out of spinach.

  I head back to my room, but when I see Kiara’s door cracked open I get curious. Knowing she’s still eating lunch, I wander inside. Her desk is piled with books and loose papers. There’s a corkboard above her desk with different sayings that belong in a self-help manual:

  Don’t be afraid to be unique Love yourself before you love another Give me a fucking break. Does she read that crap before she gets off?

  A few pictures of Kiara and that guy she sits with in the lunchroom every day are pinned to the board. One shows the two of them hiking or something on a mountain, and the other is of the two of them on snowboards. In the pictures, Kiara is laughing.

  I pick up one of the notebooks on her desk and flip through the pages. I stop when I see RULES OF ATTRACTION written on top of one of the pages. My eyes immediately focus on the words “perky privates” listed under Kiara’s traits. I laugh, then scan the next column . . . she’s lookin’ for a dude who is confident, nice, can fix cars, and likes sports. Who the hell actually writes this stuff down? I’m surprised she didn’t write I’m looking for a guy to rub my feet and kiss my ass. On the next pages are pencil drawings of her car. I hear the bedroom door squeak. Oh, crap. I’m not alone.

  Kiara is standing in the doorway in shock. Behind her is the guy from the pictures. Kiara looks stunned to find me in her room, my paws on her notebook.

  “I needed paper,” I say, keeping a casual tone as I drop the notebook on her desk.

 

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