Rules of attraction, p.34
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       Rules of Attraction, p.34

         Part #2 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
 
Page 34

 

  “He told me he wanted me to be his bag boy. ”

  “Don’t believe it. He wants you to be whatever he wants, whenever he wants. If he’s got shipments from Mexico, he wants Mexicans in the mix. He knows we don’t trust gringos. If he wants a soldier to fight a street battle, he’s got you in his back pocket. ”

  Keno is watching me, gauging my reaction to that news. Thing is, I pretty much knew it all along except for the R6 info. Great, I’ve been recruited for a drug war that has nothing to do with anything except money.

  “Why are you telling me this?” I ask him. “What’s in it for you?”

  Keno leans forward, takes a drag, and blows smoke out in one long stream. He looks up at me, all serious. “I’m gettin’ out. ”

  “Out?”

  “Sí. Out. Like disappearin’, where nobody can find me. I’m sick of the same ol’ mierda, Carlos. Hell, maybe the REACH bullshit is sinkin’ in. Every time Berger says we’re in charge of our futures, I think lady, you’ve got no clue. But what if I did have control over my future, Carlos? What if I left and started over?”

  “And did what?”

  He laughs. “Whatever I want, man. Shit, maybe I could get a job and somehow, someday, get my GED and go to college. Maybe get married and have a couple of kids who don’t remember their dad bein’ a gangbanger. I’ve always wanted to be a judge. You know, change the system and make it work so teens wouldn’t end up stuck like me. I wrote it down on Kinney’s REACH goal sheet. You probably think it’s a stupid goal to be a judge after I got arrested for drug possession—”

  “It’s not stupid,” I say, interrupting him. “I think it’s cool. ”

  “Really?” He waves the smoke away, and for the first time I sense his anticipation and fear wrapped together in one. “Wanna come with? I’m leavin’ at the end of the month, on Halloween. ”

  “That’s three weeks away. ” Leaving Colorado would mean ditching Devlin and givin’ my brother and the Westfords their normal lives back. They wouldn’t have to deal with me or my bullshit. And Kiara could get on with her life, a life that was going to be without me anyway. Soon she’ll realize the reality— I’ve got less than nothing to offer her. The last thing I need is to watch her date other guys. If she gets back with Michael I’ll go nuts. I’d be delusional to think this thing we have could be permanent.

  I nod to Keno. “You’re right, I have to leave. But I’ve got to go back to Mexico first and make sure my family is safe. After I leave here, they’re the only thing I have left. ”

  46

  Kiara

  When I told my mom I was going to the homecoming dance with Carlos, she wasn’t surprised. She said she’d take me to the mall to find a dress on Friday. It took me a while, but I finally found a long, black satin sleeveless dress at a vintage store. It hugs every curve in my body. It’s totally out of my comfort zone to wear something so tight and with a huge slit down the side, but when I put it on it makes me feel pretty and confident. It reminds me of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

  When I brought home the dress, I quickly snuck up to my room and hung it in my closet. I don’t want Carlos to see it until I put it on for the dance.

  Saturday morning the entire family, including Carlos, gets up and goes to the football game. Flatiron wins 21–13, so everyone is pumped and excited. After the game, Carlos says he has stuff to do before the dance. I go with my mom to buy shoes.

  She picks up a pair of black flats with little buckles on the sides. “How about these? They look comfy. ”

  I shake my head. “I’m not looking for comfy. ”

  I walk around the store, making sure to pass up any heels that Carlos would consider “granny” width. I set my sights on black satin pumps with a three-and-a-half-inch skinny heel and a vintage-looking ankle clasp. They’re perfect. I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk in them, but they’ll match my dress and look good. “How about these?” I ask my mom.

  Her eyes go wide. “You sure? They’ll make you taller than your father. ”

  My mom doesn’t own a pair of pumps with two-inch heels, let alone any that are over three inches.

  “I love them,” I tell her.

  “Then try them on. It’s for your special day. ”

  Fifteen minutes later I walk out with the shoes, excited to have found the perfect pair to go with the perfect dress. I want tonight to be perfect, too. I hope Carlos isn’t feeling pressured, even though I pretty much coerced him into asking me. Hopefully we can have fun and forget what happened last weekend. I don’t expect us to do much dancing since he’s still healing, but that’s okay. I’ll be happy just being there with him, whether or not we’re a real couple.

  “We have to pick up the boutonniere,” my mom says as we get in the car.

  “I already picked it up this morning. ”

  “Good. I’ve got my camera ready. Dad’s got the camcorder charging . . . we’re all set. We’ll send the pictures to Carlos’s mother on Monday, so she doesn’t feel like she missed out. ”

  After we get home, I stay in my room with the door closed, practicing how to walk in my new shoes. I feel like I’m lurching forward every time I take a step. It takes me an hour before I get the hang of it. Tuck comes over and makes me more nervous when he brings me a box full of gifts for the evening.

  “Open it,” Tuck says, handing me the box.

  I lift open the top and peek inside. I pull out a black lace garter. “You don’t wear a garter for Homecoming. ”

  “This one is specially made for Homecoming. Look, it’s got a little fake-gold football charm hanging off it. ” I toss it on my bed, then pull out the next item. Rose-tinted lip gloss.

  Tuck shrugs as I open it. “Personally it grosses me out, but I hear straight guys like it when girls have shiny lips. There’s some eyeliner and mascara in there, too. The lady at the store said they’re the best ones to get. ”

  While I’m taking out each item, I stop and look at Tuck. “Why did you buy me all this stuff ?”

  He shrugs. “I just . . . didn’t want you to miss out. Whether you want to admit it to me or not, you like him. I know I give the guy a hard time, but maybe you see something in him the rest of us don’t see. ”

  Tuck is the most awesome best friend. “You’re so sweet,” I say, just as I’m emptying out the box of breath mints and . . . two condoms. I hold them up. “You didn’t buy me condoms. ”

  “You’re right, I didn’t. I took them from the health-service office at school. They just hand ’em out if you want one . . . or two. You might want to ask him if he’s allergic to latex, though. If he is, you’re SOL. ”

  I think about having sex with Carlos and my face feels hot. “I’m not planning on having sex tonight. ” I toss the square packages on the bed, but Tuck picks them back up.

  “That’s why you need the condoms, stupid. If you’re not planning on it and it happens, you won’t be prepared and then you’ll end up pregnant or diseased. Do me a favor and stick ’em in your purse or shove ’em inside your Spanx. ”

  I wrap my arms around Tuck and kiss him on the cheek. “I love you for caring about me so much. I’m sorry Jake said no when you asked him to Homecoming. ”

  Tuck laughs. “I didn’t tell you the latest. ”

  “What’s the latest?”

  “Jake called about an hour ago. He doesn’t want to go to Homecoming . . . but he wants to hang out tonight. ”

  “That’s great. I thought he was straight, by the way. ”

  “What’s wrong with you? For someone who’s best friends with a homo, you’ve got no gaydar. Jake Somers is as gay as I am, no question about it. I’ve got to be honest, Kiara. I’m so nervous and anxious and excited I hope I don’t screw this up. I’ve secretly liked Jake for a while now. ” Tuck walks over to my desk drawer and takes out the Rules of Attraction notebook. He tears out each page and rips it into little pieces.

  “What are you d-d-doing?”
>
  “Ripping up my Rules of Attraction. I’ve figured something out. ”

  “What?”

  Tuck tosses the ripped paper in my garbage. “There are no rules to attraction. Jake is nothing like who I wanted. He doesn’t have the same interests I have, he hates Ultimate, and he reads and analyzes poetry in his spare time just for fun. I can’t stop thinking about him. He said he wants to hang out tonight. What does hanging out mean?”

  “I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. ” I reach for one of the condom packages and toss it to him. “You better take one, just in case. ”

  47

  Carlos

  “I told you one day you’d call me,” Brittany says as we walk through the mall.

  I called her yesterday and asked her to meet me after the Flatiron football game today. I need her help, because she’s the only one I know who’s hoity-toity enough to be an expert on all this Homecoming crap.

  “Don’t brag about it,” I tell her. “I’m surprised Alex didn’t insist on comin’ with us. You two are joined at the hip. ”

  She keeps her concentration on the racks of suits, picking out some for me to try on. “Let’s not talk about Alex. ”

  “Why not, did you two have a fight?” I joke, not believin’ for a minute my brother would argue with his girlfriend.

  Brittany blinks a couple of times, as if holding back tears. “Actually, we broke up yesterday. ”

  “You’re not serious. ”

  “I’m dead serious, and I don’t want to talk about it. Go try on those suits before I start bawling in the middle of the store. It won’t be pretty. ” She shoves the suits at me and shoos me off to the dressing room. When I look back, she’s taken a tissue out of her purse and is wiping her eyes with it.

  What the hell? No wonder my brother hasn’t wanted to talk to me much and hasn’t drilled me about Devlin since Sunday night. What did he do to screw things up with Brittany, the girl he said was responsible for changing his life?

  Thanks to Devlin’s envelope full of cash, I buy the suit Brittany says makes me look like a GQ model. Then we pick up the corsage I ordered yesterday when I found a florist who would create one for Kiara on short notice. When we’re back in the car, I figure it’s safe to ask Brittany about the supposed breakup. If she cries now, nobody will see she’s got mascara runnin’ down her face.

  I can’t hold it in any longer. My curiosity is killin’ me. “You and my brother are sickeningly perfect together, so what’s the problem?”

  “Ask your brother. ”

  “I don’t happen to be with him right now, I’m with you. Unless you want me to call him . . . ” I pull out the cell from my pocket.

  “No!” she cries. “Don’t you dare call him. I don’t want to see him, hear him, or have anything to do with him right now. ”

 

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