Chain Reaction, Page 2Simone Elkeles
He laughs. “You don’t even speak a word of Spanish, Nikki. My parents and friends talk about you while you’re in the room, and you’re clueless. You’re not really Mexican. ”
Is he kidding me?
My parents were born in Mexico, just like the rest of my ancestors. Nobody would mistake them for anything other than Latino. Spanish is their first language. My parents came to the United States after they got married. After that, my dad went to medical school and did his residency at Chicago Memorial.
“The gang doesn’t make you more Mexican, Marco. Don’t make the gang more important than our relationship. ”
He kicks up the sand with his toe. “No hablas pinche español. ”
“I don’t know what you said. Can you translate, please?”
He holds his hands up in frustration. “That’s my point. To be honest, I’ve been hangin’ with the Blood for a while now. ”
How can he say that? I put my hand over my stomach in a weak effort to protect any baby that might be growing inside me. I can’t help tears from welling in my eyes. I know I look desperate and pathetic as a stream of tears runs down my cheeks. Everything I thought I had with Marco is blowing up in my face. I feel more alone than I ever have in my life.
“I can’t believe this,” I say in almost a whisper.
I should tell him my secret. Maybe it’ll make him change his mind, knowing that we might have a baby. But if I’m not pregnant, am I just prolonging the inevitable?
“I just don’t want you to give me shit for bein’ a Blood,” he blurts out. “All of my friends joined. ”
I look down at my nails. I’d painted them last night and drew a red heart design in the middle of each nail. On my thumbs, inside the little hearts, I put the initials MD—Marco Delgado. I thought he’d be flattered. Obviously I was delusional. I quickly hide my thumbs in my fists.
“I’m sorry,” he says, then rubs my shoulder like a parent consoling a child. “Don’t cry. We can still, you know, be friends … friends with benefits, even. ”
“I don’t want to be friends with benefits, Marco. I want to be your girlfriend. ” The entire contents of my lunch threaten to come up on me.
What is the gang giving him that I can’t?
He stays silent and kicks the sand again.
My hands fall limply at my sides as I realize I can’t fix this. He’s looking at me differently, as if I’m just one of the other girls at school and not the girl of his dreams or the future mother of his children.
He pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and glances at the time. “Um … about tonight. ”
“The end-of-year party at Malnatti’s?” It’s the “officially unofficial” pizza party for Fairfield High students. They put up a big tent outside their restaurant and have a DJ and an all-you-can-eat pizza party from six to eleven. Afterward, most of the students hang out at the Fairfield football field back forty until the police come to break it up.
“Yeah,” he says. “So, uh, if you know of anyone who wants to be hooked up, let me know. ”
“You’re selling drugs?” I ask him.
He shrugs. “It’s money. ”
“It’s dirty money, Marco. And illegal. Don’t do it. You could get arrested and locked in jail. ”
“I don’t need a fuckin’ lecture from you. ”
He checks his phone again. Is he waiting for someone to call or text him? I feel like I’ve already lost everything we ever had.
The tears running silently down my cheeks are a clue that I am most definitely not okay, but he doesn’t seem to care. I swipe them away and curse myself for being so weak.
I can handle this. I’m an independent girl who doesn’t need a guy to figure out what to do. Obviously this is my problem, and my problem alone. If I’m pregnant, he’ll figure it out when he sees my stomach swell up like a balloon. He’ll know it’s his. If he chooses to acknowledge us and clean up his life, then we’ll talk.
I look up at Marco and give him a small smile. “I don’t want to control you. I never wanted to be the girl who held you back. ”
“But you did … you have. I can’t do it anymore. ”
I guess in reality I’m not independent. Our relationship did define me, and I liked it that way. I can’t believe he wants me out of his life. It doesn’t make sense.
He gets a text, but I can’t see who it’s from. He texts back. “Can you make it home on your own?” he asks me. His fingers move fast and furious as he continues texting.
“I guess. ”
“Cool. ” He leans down and kisses me on the cheek. “My friends thought you’d go all loco on me. They thought you’d punch me or somethin’. ”
Now there’s a thought. But no, I couldn’t punch him.
Before I can open my mouth to beg him to come back to me and lose any dignity I have left, he turns to leave. Then he’s just gone. Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind.
He picked the gang over me.
My breath hitches. I look out at the lake and feel like jumping in—to swim away and pretend this isn’t happening. Desperation washes over me like waves washing footprints off the shore, and I start to shake uncontrollably. My knees crumple to the sand, and I can feel my hot tears start to fall again. This time I don’t swipe them away. I break down and cry while recalling every single moment Marco and I spent together, and praying that my period is just late and I’m not really pregnant.
Pregnant at fifteen was never my plan.
I guess my secret is out. If it wasn’t for that damn snake, I wouldn’t have fallen off the rock and miamá wouldn’t be sitting in the hospital room continuously shooting me threatening stares that translate into You are in so much trouble.
Ends up I didn’t have venom running through my body. One of the snake’s fangs punctured a nerve in my hand, which is why it felt numb. After I fell, Brooke called her father in a panic. He picked us up and drove me to the hospital. Surviving the snake bite was the easy part. Getting continuously lectured by miamá has been torture.
During the fall down the face of the rock, I scratched up my legs pretty bad. I should be grateful for finally being able to grab part of the rock that jutted out with my good hand, even though in the process I ripped my skin open from palm to wrist and almost needed stitches. In the end, the doc decided the cuts weren’t deep enough to require stitches and decided to have a nurse bandage me up instead.
Miamá crosses her arms on her chest as she watches me adjust the hospital bed so I’m not lying down flat. “You scared me half to death, Luis. Who told you to climb up a mountain without a safety harness?”
“It was stupid,” she tells me, stating the obvious as she watches the nurse bandage my hand.
“I know. ”
I look over at my brother Alex, leaning against the window watching me. He’s shaking his head, probably wondering how he got stuck with two younger brothers who were destined to do reckless, stupid things. Papá died before I was born, so Alex has been the oldest male in our immediate family since he was six. Now he’s twenty-two.
I’ve got to give Alex credit. He’s always tried to keep us out of trouble. Carlos was a lost cause from the start. Miamá said our other brother was born kicking and screaming, and never stopped until he was a teenager. Then all that pent-up energy was used to start fights with anyone who was stupid enough to piss him off.
Alex was twenty when miamá sent Carlos to live with him so Alex could straighten Carlos out.
Now Carlos is in the military and Alex is about to get married to Brittany Ellis, the girl he’s been dating since high school.
A nurse peeks her head into the room. “Mrs. Fuentes, we need you to sign a few papers. ”
The second miamá leaves the room, Alex steps toward me. “You are one lucky motherfucker,” he says. “If I ever find out you free solo again, I’ll personally kick your ass. Go
“Alex, it wasn’t my fault. ”
“Oh, hell,” he says, covering his eyes with his hand as if he has a big headache. “You sound just like Carlos. ”
“I’m not Carlos,” I say.
“So don’t act like him. I’m gettin’ married in two weeks. Two weeks, Luis. The last thing I need is one of my brothers fallin’ off a fuckin’ cliff and killin’ himself. ”
“Technically it wasn’t a cliff,” I tell him. “And the odds of gettin’ a snake bite on an ascent is like—”
“Give me a break,” he says, cutting me off. “I don’t need statistics, Luis. I need my brother at my weddin’. ”
Five girls, including Brooke, Jamie, and three of their friends, appear in the doorway. They’re all carrying balloons that say Get well soon! on them. I give a short laugh as my brother glances at the parade of girls with shock as they tie their balloons to the side rail of my bed.
“How are you feeling?” Brooke asks.
“Like crap,” I tell them, lifting up both of my bandaged hands—one with the snake bite and the other from being ripped open by the rocks.
“We came here to make you feel better,” Jamie says.
I smile wide and immediately feel better. Now that I know I’m not about to die, it’s all good. “What do you girls have in mind?”
I think I hear my brother snort as he steps back and the girls surround my bed.
“Want a back massage?” Angelica Muñoz asks with a flirty lilt to her voice.
“I brought some cookies from the Pearl Street Mall bakery,” Brooke says. “I can feed you since you can’t use your hands. ”
“You’ve got to be kiddin’,” Alex mumbles from behind her.
Angelica settles behind me and starts massaging my back while Brooke takes one of the chocolate chip cookies she brought and lifts it to my mouth.
My future sister-in-law walks into the room, her high-heeled boots clicking on the hospital floor and her hair secured in a long blond ponytail running down her back. She takes one look at my entourage and shakes her head in confusion.
“What’s going on here?” she says to Alex.
“Don’t ask,” Alex says, coming up to her.
“Alex called me in a panic and said you’d had an accident,” she tells me.
I hold up both of my bandaged hands again. “I did. Hurts like a bitch, but the doc says I’ll survive. ”
“Obviously,” she says. “But I don’t think you’ll be happy when your mother walks in the room and catches her fifteen-year-old son surrounded by his own harem. You know how protective she gets, Luis. ”
“If she’s like my mom, she’ll freak,” Angelica says, then says to the other girls, “Maybe we should leave. ”
Angelica is a girl I’ve casually fooled around with a few times at parties. She’s got Mexican parents, too, so she gets it. The other girls don’t have a clue how protective Mexican mothers can be.