Rules of attraction, p.3
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       Rules of Attraction, p.3

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
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Page 3

 

  I moan, wondering when this humiliation will end. “I feel like I’m a cow about to be auctioned. ”

  “Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’ve got flawless skin and a perky nose to match your tits. If I wasn’t gay I might be tempted to—”

  “Eww. ” I slap his hand away from the paper. “Tuck, can you please not say or write that word?”

  He shakes his long hair out of his eyes. “What, tits?”

  “Ugh. Yes, that one. Just say boobs or breasts, please. The ‘t’ word just sounds so . . . vulgar. ”

  Tuck snorts and rolls his eyes. “Okay, perky . . . breasts. ” He laughs, totally amused. “I’m sorry, Kiara, that just sounds like something you’re gonna barbeque for lunch or order off a menu. ” He pretends my notebook is a menu as he recites in a fake English accent, “Yes, waiter, I’d like the barbequed perky breasts with a side of coleslaw. ”

  I throw Mojo, my big blue teddy bear, at Tuck’s head. “Just call ’em privates and move on. ”

  Mojo bounces right off him and lands on the floor. My best friend doesn’t miss a beat. “Perky tits, scratch. Perky breasts, scratch. ” He makes a big deal of crossing both those out. “Replace with . . . perky privates,” he says, writing each word down as he says it. “Long legs, and long eyelashes. ” He eyes my hands and wrinkles his nose. “No offense, but you could use a manicure. ”

  “Is that it?” I ask.

  “I don’t know. Can you think of anything else?”

  I shake my head.

  “Okay, so now that we know how fabulous you are, we need to make a list of what kind of guy you want. We’ll write this on the right side of the page. Let’s start with personality. You want a guy who is . . . fill in the blank. ”

  “I want a guy who’s confident. Really confident. ”

  “Good,” he says, writing it down.

  “I want a guy who’s nice to me. ”

  Tuck continues writing. “Nice guy. ”

  “I’d like a guy who’s smart,” I add.

  “Street smarts or book smarts?”

  “Both?” I question, not knowing if it’s the right or wrong answer.

  He pats me on the head like I’m a little kid. “Good. Let’s move on to skills. ” He shushes me, stopping me from contributing. Fine by me. “I’ll write this part down for you. You want a guy who has the same skills as you have, and then some. Someone who likes sports, someone who can at least appreciate your interest in fixing up that stupid old car of yours, and—”

  “Shoot. ” I jump off my bed. “I almost forgot. I need to go into town and pick up something from the auto-body shop. ”

  “Please don’t tell me it’s fuzzy dice to hang on your rearview mirror. ”

  “It’s not fuzzy dice. It’s a radio. A vintage one. ”

  “Oh, goodie! A vintage one, to match your vintage car!” Tuck says sarcastically, then claps a bunch of times in fake excitement.

  I roll my eyes at him. “Wanna come with?”

  “No. ” He closes my notebook and shoves it back in my desk. “The last thing I want to do is hang around and listen to you talk about cars with people who actually care. ”

  After I drop off Tuck at his house, it takes me fifteen minutes to get to McConnell’s Auto Body. I pull my car into the shop and find Alex, one of the mechanics, bent over the engine of a VW Beetle. Alex was one of my dad’s students. Last year, after a study session, my dad found out that Alex works on cars. He told Alex about the 1972 Monte Carlo I’ve been restoring, and Alex has been helping me get parts for it ever since.

  “Hey, Kiara. ” He wipes his hands on a shop cloth, and asks me to wait while he gets my radio. “Here it is,” he says, opening the box. He pulls out the radio and removes it from the bubble wrap. Wires are sticking out of the back like spindly legs, but it’s just perfect. I know I shouldn’t be so excited about a radio, but the dash wouldn’t be complete without it. The one that came with my car never worked and the front plastic was cracked, so Alex has been looking online to find me an authentic replacement.

  “I didn’t get a chance to test it, though,” he says as he wiggles each wire to make sure the connections are solid. “I had to pick up my brother at the airport, so I couldn’t come in early. ”

  “Is he visiting from Mexico?” I ask.

  “He’s not visitin’. He’ll be a senior at Flatiron startin’ tomorrow,” he says as he fills out an invoice. “You go there, right?”

  I nod.

  He puts the radio back in the box. “Do you need help installin’ it?”

  I didn’t think so before I saw it up close, but now I’m not so sure. “Maybe,” I tell him. “Last time I soldered wires, I messed them up. ”

  “Then don’t pay for it now,” he says. “If you’ve got time tomorrow after school, stop by and I’ll put it in. That’ll give me time to test the thing. ”

  “Thanks, Alex. ”

  He looks up from the invoice and taps his pen on the counter. “I know this is gonna sound loco, but can you help show my brother around school? He doesn’t know anyone. ”

  “We have a peer outreach program at school,” I say, proud that I can help. “I can meet you in the principal’s office in the morning and sign up to be his peer guide. ” The old Kiara would have been too shy and would never have offered, but not the new Kiara.

  “I’ve got to warn you . . . ”

  “About what?”

  “My brother can be tough to deal with. ”

  My lips turn into a wide grin, because as Tuck pointed out . . . “I love a good challenge. ”

  3

  Carlos

  “I don’t need a peer guide. ”

  Those are the first words out of my mouth as Mr. House, the Flatiron High School principal, introduces me to Kiara Westford.

  “We pride ourselves on our peer outreach programs,” Mr. House says to Alex. “They help ensure a smooth transition. ”

  My brother nods. “No problem with me. I’m sold on the idea. ”

  “I’m not,” I mumble. I don’t need a damn peer guide because (1) it’s obvious from the way Alex greeted Kiara a few minutes ago that he knows her, and (2) the girl is not hot; she has her hair up in a ponytail, is wearing leather hiking boots with three-quarter stretch pants with an Under Armour logo peeking out the bottom, and is covered from neck to knee by an oversized T-shirt with the word MOUNTAINEER written on it, and (3) I don’t need a babysitter, especially one that my brother arranged.

  Mr. House sits in his big, brown leather chair and hands Kiara a copy of my schedule. Great, so now the girl knows where I’m supposed to be every second of the day. If this situation weren’t so humiliatin’, it’d be hilarious.

  “This is a big school, Carlos,” House says as if I can’t figure out the map on my own. “Kiara is an exemplary student. She’ll show you to your locker and escort you to each class for your first week here. ”

  “You ready?” the girl asks with a big grin. “The first-period late bell already rang. ”

  Can I request another peer guide, one who isn’t so happy to be at school at seven thirty a. m. ?

  Alex waves me off, and I’m tempted to flip him the finger but I’m not sure the principal would appreciate it.

  I follow the exemplary student out into the empty hallway and I think I’ve entered hell. Lockers line the hallways and signs are taped to the walls. One says YES WE KAHN!—VOTE FOR MEGAN KAHN FOR STUDENT PRESIDENT and another reads JASON TU—YOUR “GO-TU GUY” FOR STUDENT COUNCIL TREASURER! are displayed along with the rest of the signs from people who actually want to MAKE HEALTHIER STUDENT LUNCHES THE NORM!—VOTE FOR NORM REDDING.

  Healthier student lunches?

  Hell, back in Mexico you ate what you brought from home or whatever crap they put in front of you. There weren’t choices. Where I lived in Mexico you ate to survive, without worrying about counting calories or carbs. That’s not to say that some people don’t live like kings in Mexico. Like in
America, there are definitely the rich areas in every one of the thirty-one Mexican states . . . but my family just didn’t live in any of ’em.

  I don’t belong at Flatiron High, and I sure as hell don’t want to follow this girl around all week. I wonder how much the exemplary student can take before she gives up and quits.

  She directs me to my locker and I shove my stuff inside. “My locker is two away from yours,” she announces, as if that’s actually a good thing. When I’m ready, she studies my schedule and walks down the hall at the same time. “Mr. Hennesey’s class is one flight up. ”

  “¿Dónde está el servicio?” I ask her.

  “Huh? I don’t take Spanish. Je parle français— I speak French. ”

  “Why? Do a lot of French people live in Colorado?”

  “No, but I want to do a semester abroad in France my sophomore year of college like my mom did. ”

  My mom didn’t even finish high school. She got pregnant with Alex and married my dad.

  “You’re learnin’ a language that you’ll use for one semester? Sounds stupid to me. ” I stop when we reach a door with a male stick figure painted on it. With my thumb, I point to the door. “Servicio is bathroom . . . I asked where the bathroom is. ”

  “Oh. ” She looks a little confused, as if not exactly knowing how to handle deviations from the schedule. “Well, I guess I’ll just wait out here for you. ”

  Time to have a little fun by screwin’ with my peer guide. “Unless you want to come inside and show me around . . . I mean, I don’t know how far you wanna take this whole peer guide thing. ”

  “Not that far. ” She purses her lips like she just sucked on a sour lemon and shakes her head. “Go ahead. I’ll wait. ”

  In the bathroom, I brace my hands on the sink and take a deep breath. All I can see in the mirror above the sink is a guy whose family thinks he’s a total fuckup.

  Maybe I should have told miamá the truth: that I got fired from the mill for protecting little fifteen-year-old Emilie Juarez from being harassed by one of the supervisors. It was bad enough she had to quit school and start working to help her family put food on their table. When our boss thought he could put his filthy hands on her just because he was el jefe, I went ballistic. Yeah, it cost me my job . . . but it was worth it and I’d do it again even if it had the same consequences.

  A knock on the door brings me back to reality, and the fact that I have to be escorted to class by a girl who dresses like she’s goin’ mountain climbing. I can’t imagine a girl like Kiara ever needing a guy to fight for her, because if any guy threatened her she’d probably suffocate him with her oversized tee.

  The door creaks open the slightest bit. “You still in there?” Kiara’s voice echoes through the bathroom.

  “Yep. ”

 

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