Rules of Attraction, Page 2Simone Elkeles
“Don’t have one. ”
Shit. That’s not good. “What the hell am I supposed to do when I’m bored?”
“Read a book. ”
“Estás chiflado, you’re crazy. I don’t read. ”
“Startin’ tomorrow you do,” he says as he opens the window to let in some fresh air. “I’ve already had your transcripts sent. They’re expectin’ you at Flatiron High tomorrow. ”
School? My brother is talkin’ about school? Man, that’s the last thing a seventeen-year-old guy wants to think about. I thought he’d at least give me a week to adjust to living in the U. S. again. Time to change course. “Where do you stash your weed?” I say, knowing I’m pushing his patience to the limit. “You should prob’ly tell me now so I don’t have to go rummagin’ through your place tryin’ to find it. ”
“Don’t have any. ”
“Okay. Then who’s your dealer?”
“You don’t get it, Carlos. I don’t do that shit anymore. ”
“You said you work. Don’t you make money?”
“Yeah, so I can afford to eat, go to college, and send whatever’s left to Mamá. ”
Just as that news is sinking in, the apartment door opens. I recognize my brother’s blond girlfriend immediately, her keys to his apartment and her purse in one hand and a big brown paper bag in the other. She looks like a Barbie doll come to life. My brother takes the bag and kisses her. They might as well be married. “Carlos, you remember Brittany. ”
She opens her arms out wide and pulls me close. “Carlos, it’s so great to have you here!” Brittany says in a cheery voice. I almost forgot she used to be a cheerleader back in high school, but as soon as she opens her mouth I can’t help but remember.
“For who?” I say stiffly.
She pulls back. “For you. And for Alex. He misses having his family around. ”
“I bet. ”
She clears her throat and looks a little uneasy. “Umm . . . okay, well, I brought you guys some Chinese food for lunch. I hope you’re hungry. ”
“We’re Mexican,” I tell her. “Why didn’t you get Mexican food?”
Brittany’s perfectly shaped eyebrows furrow. “That was a joke, right?”
“Not really. ”
She turns toward the kitchen. “Alex, want to help me out here?”
Alex appears with paper plates and plastic utensils in his hands. “Carlos, what’s your problem?”
I shrug. “No problem. I was just askin’ your girlfriend why she didn’t get Mexican food. She’s the one who got all defensive. ”
“Have some manners and say ‘thank you’ instead of makin’ her feel like crap. ”
It’s crystal clear whose side my brother is on. At one time Alex said he joined the Latino Blood to protect our family, so Luis and I didn’t have to join. But I can see now that family means crap to him.
Brittany holds her hands up. “I don’t want you two getting in a fight because of me. ” She pushes her purse farther on her shoulder and sighs. “I think I better go and let you two get reacquainted. ”
“Don’t go,” Alex says.
Dios mío, I think my brother lost his balls somewhere between here and Mexico. Or maybe Brittany has them zipped inside that fancy purse. “Alex, let her go if she wants. ” It’s time to break the leash she’s got him on.
“It’s okay. Really,” she says, then kisses my brother. “Enjoy the lunch. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye, Carlos. ”
“Uh-huh. ” As soon as she’s gone, I grab the brown bag off the kitchen counter and bring it to the table. I read the labels on each container. Chicken chow mein . . . beef chow fun . . . pu-pu platter. “Pu-pu platter?”
“It’s a bunch of appetizers,” Alex explains.
I’m not goin’ near anything with the word “pu-pu” in it. I’m annoyed that my brother even knows what a pu-pu platter is. I leave that container alone as I scoop myself a plateful of the identifiable Chinese food and start chowing down. “Aren’t you gonna eat?” I ask Alex.
He’s looking at me as if I’m some stranger.
“¿Qué pasa?” I ask.
“Brittany’s not goin’ anywhere, you know. ”
“That’s the problem. Can’t you see it?”
“No. What I see is my seventeen-year-old brother actin’ like he’s five. It’s time to grow up, mocoso. ”
“So I can be as borin’ as shit like you? No thanks. ”
Alex grabs his keys.
“Where you goin’?”
“To apologize to my girlfriend, then head to work. Make yourself at home,” he says, tossing me a key to the apartment. “And stay out of trouble. ”
“As long as you’re talkin’ to Brittany,” I say as I bite off the end of an egg roll, “why don’t you ask her for your huevos back. ”
“Kiara, I can’t believe he text-dumped you,” my best friend, Tuck, says, reading the three sentences on my cell phone screen as he sits at the desk in my room. “It’s nt wrkg out. Sry. Don’t h8 me. ” He tosses the phone back to me. “The least he could have done is spell it out. Don’t h8 me? The guy’s a joke. Of course you’re gonna hate him. ”
I lie back on my bed and stare at the ceiling, remembering the first time Michael and I kissed. It was at the outdoor summer concert in Niwot behind the ice cream vendor. “I liked him. ”
“Yeah, well I never did. Don’t trust someone you meet in the waiting room at your therapist’s office. ”
I flip onto my stomach and sit up on my elbows. “It was speech therapy. And he just drove his brother for sessions. ”
Tuck, who has never liked a guy I’ve dated, pulls out a pink skull-and-crossbones notebook from my desk drawer. He shakes his index finger at me. “Never trust a guy who tells you he loves you on the second date. Happened to me once. It was a total joke. ”
“Why? Don’t you believe in love at first sight?”
“No. I believe in lust at first sight. And attraction. But not love. Michael told you he loved you just so he could get into your pants. ”
“How do you know?”
“I’m a guy, that’s how I know. ” Tuck frowns. “You didn’t do it with him, did you?”
“No,” I say, shaking my head to emphasize my answer. We fooled around, but I didn’t want to take it to the next level. I just, I don’t know . . . I wasn’t ready.
I haven’t seen or talked to Michael since school started two weeks ago. Sure, we texted a few times, but he always said he was busy and would call when he got a minute. He’s a senior in Longmont twenty minutes away and I go to school in Boulder, so I just thought he was busy with school stuff. But now I know the reason we haven’t talked wasn’t because he was busy. It was because he wanted to break up.
Was it because of another girl?
Was it because I wasn’t pretty enough?
Was it because I wouldn’t have sex with him?
It can’t be because I stutter. I’ve been working on my speech all summer and haven’t stuttered once since June. Every week I went to speech therapy, every day I practice speaking in front of a mirror, every minute I’m conscious of the words that come out of my mouth. Before now I always had to worry when I spoke, waiting for that confused look people got and then that “Oh, I understand— she’s got a problem” revelation. Then came the look of pity. And then the “she must be stupid” assumption. Or, in the case of some of the girls in my school, my stuttering was the source of amusement.
But I don’t stutter anymore.
Tuck knows this is the year I’m determined to show my confident side— the side I’ve never shown the kids at school. I’ve been shy and introverted my first three years of high school, because I’ve had an intense fear of people making fun of me stuttering. From now on instead of Kiara Westford being remembered for being shy, they’re going to remember me as the one who wasn’t afraid to speak up.
I didn’t count on Michael break
ing up with me. I thought we’d go to Homecoming together, and prom . . .
“Stop thinking about Michael,” Tuck orders.
“He was cute. ”
“So is a hairy ferret, but I wouldn’t want to date one. You could do better than him. Don’t sell yourself short. ”
“Look at me,” I tell him. “Face reality, Tuck. I’m no Madison Stone. ”
“Thank God for that. I hate Madison Stone. ”
Madison raises the term “mean girls” to an entirely new level. The girl is good at everything she tries and could be easily crowned the most popular girl in school. Every girl wants to be friends with her so they can hang with the cool crowd. Madison Stone creates the cool crowd. “Everyone likes her. ”
“That’s because they’re afraid of her. Secretly everyone hates her. ” Tuck starts scribbling words in my notebook, then hands it to me. “Here,” he says, then tosses me a pen.
I stare at the page. RULES OF ATTRACTION is written on top, and a big line is drawn down the center of the page.
“What is this?”
“In the left column write down all the great things about you. ”
Is he kidding? “No. ”
“Come on, start writing. Consider this a self-help exercise, and a way for you to realize that girls like Madison Stone aren’t even attractive. Finish the sentence I, Kiara Westford, am great because . . . ”
I know Tuck isn’t going to let up, so I write something stupid and hand it back to him.
He reads my words and cringes. “I, Kiara, am great because . . . I know how to throw a football, change the oil in my car, and hike a fourteener. Ugh, guys don’t care about this stuff. ” He grabs the pen from me, sits on the edge of my bed, and starts writing furiously. “Let’s get the basics down. You’ve got to measure attractiveness in three parts to get the full result. ”
“Who made up those rules?”
“Me. These are Tuck Reese’s Rules of Attraction. First, we start with personality. You’re smart, funny, and sarcastic,” he says, listing each one in the notebook.
“I’m not sure all of those are good things. ”
“Trust me, they are. But wait, I’m not done. You’re also a loyal friend, you love a challenge more than most guys I know, and you’re a great sister to Brandon. ” He looks up when he’s done writing. “The second part is your skills. You know about fixing cars, you’re athletic, and you know when to shut up. ”
“That last one isn’t a skill. ”
“Honey, trust me. It’s a skill. ”
“You forgot my special spinach and walnut salad. ” I can’t cook, but that salad is an all-time favorite.
“You do make a killer salad,” he says, adding that to the list. “Okay, on to the last part— physical traits. ” Tuck looks me up and down, assessing me.