Chain reaction, p.11
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       Chain Reaction, p.11

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 11


  Luis introduces Derek, then Derek talks about how Luis moved here from Colorado but used to live in Fairfield when he was younger.

  After the introductions there’s time left, so Mrs. Peterson takes us on a tour of the lab. She tells us it was updated over the summer, and explains why there’s a shower stall in the back of the room.

  “Last year we had an … incident with some of my students who didn’t listen to my instructions. Let’s just say that the school board decided that installing a hazardous chemicals washing area might be necessary. None of you should ever need this shower, but if for any reason any one of you gets a chemical on your skin and you’re having a reaction, wash it off immediately. You don’t need to raise your hand and ask permission. ”

  While we’re standing in front of the shower, my phone starts to vibrate. Crap. It’s in my back pocket. I totally forgot to turn it off. As if that’s not bad enough, it rings so loud that now everyone is staring at me. I ignore it, hoping Mrs. Peterson doesn’t realize it’s mine and praying that the call transfers to voice mail before the next ring.

  “You better turn that off,” Kendall murmurs in my ear. “Rumor has it Peterson’s got a cell phone collection worth thousands. ”

  Too late.

  “Ms. Cruz?”

  I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment, wishing I could magically transplant myself to another classroom. “Yes?” I answer meekly.

  Mrs. Peterson is standing in front of me now. “Go ahead, answer it. ”

  I hesitate.

  “Take your phone out of your pocket and answer it,” she orders again. “Before I go into labor, please. ”

  I slide it out of my pocket and press the answer button, when, to my complete horror, Mrs. Peterson motions to hand the phone to her.

  She puts it to her ear. “Hello, this is Nikki’s phone,” she says into the receiver as if she’s my personal secretary.

  She covers the mouthpiece and whispers loudly so everyone can hear, “It’s Dara from Razzle Salon, confirming your bikini and eyebrow wax appointment. ” Pause. “This is Mrs. Peterson, Nikki’s chemistry teacher. ” Pause. “Dara says she’s running late, so she’s calling to see if you can come at six instead of four today. ”

  I feel my face getting red hot as comments and snickers echo through the room. “That’s fine,” I say weakly.

  Mrs. Peterson puts the phone back to her ear and says, “Dara, six o’clock will be just perfect. Okay. Yes, I will definitely let her know. You have a fabulous day, too. B’bye. ”

  She turns off the phone, then walks over to her desk and places it inside one of the drawers. Peterson lets out an exaggerated, hefty sigh. “I guess since it’s the first day of school I’ll be nice and give you an option. Either I get to keep your phone, or you can serve detention after school today. ”

  That’s her being nice? What’s it like when she’s being mean? I’ve spent three years at this school without managing to get even one blue detention slip. “I seriously thought it was turned off,” I say, hoping she’ll show some compassion.

  She points to her deadpan expression. “Does it look like I care? Zero tolerance. You should have turned it off before you came to class. Or, better yet, left it in your locker. Or at home. It’s school policy to keep your phones completely turned off during class, Ms. Cruz. Not on vibrate and not switched to silent. You’re a senior. You’ve had three years to memorize the Fairfield High School manual. ”

  Memorize the manual? From her serious tone, I do think she expects us to memorize the school manual. “I’ll take a detention,” I say as the bell rings.

  While everyone else files out of class, I wait for Mrs. Peterson to fill out the detention slip. She hands it to me, along with my phone.

  “Don’t let it happen again,” she says. “Or you and I are not going to get along. ”

  I don’t mention that I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about us ever getting along.

  “It’s tough love,” she calls after me as I walk out of her classroom.

  I’d call it something else, but I don’t make it a habit to piss off teachers, so I keep my mouth shut and head for my locker. Kendall is standing in front of it, waiting for me. She grabs my detention out of my hand and stares at the offending words written in Mrs. Peterson’s handwriting. “I seriously can’t believe that woman gave you a detention on the first day of school. Peterson is brutal. Want me to wait for you?”

  “Nah, but thanks. ” My brother is walking toward us, reminding me that we’re supposed to walk home together. “I got a detention, so I can’t walk with you,” I tell him.

  “You got a detention on the first day of school?” he asks, completely shocked. “I didn’t think that was possible. ”

  “It is when you’ve got Mrs. Peterson for a teacher,” I say.

  “I’ll give you a ride home,” Kendall tells Ben. “But you can’t talk about dragon slaying as if it’s a real sport. ”

  Ben agrees, although I’m sure he’s bummed that he can’t talk dragon slaying with her. I feel sorry for my brother, who doesn’t have many friends who share his love of gaming. He’s very popular online, but the people he plays with are anonymous … they’re not real friends.

  After they leave, I resign myself to the fact that I can’t stall the inevitable. I head to the cafeteria, which doubles as the detention room after school. I’m pretty certain I’ll be the only one in there.

  But as I enter the cafeteria and am handed a sign-in sheet by Mr. Harris, a gym teacher, I see I’m not alone.

  Justin Dougan, wearing his letterman’s jacket even though it’s too hot outside for anything heavier than a T-shirt, is sitting in back with his head resting on top of the table. Either he’s sleeping or pretending not to care that he’s stuck in this room expected to do nothing but be silent and do homework for an hour.

  There’s one other person in detention with me—Luis Fuentes.

  I sit on the empty lunch table behind him, wondering the entire time how he managed to get himself in trouble. I glance back at Justin, and it doesn’t seem so impossible anymore. Justin isn’t exactly known for being the nicest kid in school. He must have provoked Luis. And Luis must have fought back.

  Fights aren’t allowed at Fairfield High without consequences. Neither are cell phone calls during class.

  I sit for a half hour, attempting to study because some teachers don’t think the first day of school is meant to be a blow-off day. I force myself to look down at my math book, but I can’t focus and I’m totally lost. It’s because Luis is here. I’m so aware of his presence in the room that it’s distracting.

  “Hey, Nikki,” Luis whispers.

  I look up and realize that Mr. Harris has walked out of the room. “What?”

  Luis slides off the cafeteria bench and straddles the one right across from me. “We didn’t really have a chance to talk in Peterson’s class. Remember me from a couple of years ago?” he asks.

  I shake my head. “Nope,” I lie.

  He puts his hand on his chest. “Luis Fuentes. I met you at my brother’s weddin’. ”

  As if I’d ever forget. I wish I didn’t remember Luis Fuentes and his arrogant, annoying smile. Or the fact that he went skinny-dipping with a girl he met after flirting with me.

  He’s looking at me with his head tilted to the side, assessing my response.

  I look away. Then look back at him. He’s got one brow arched questioningly. It’s no use, because he’ll know the truth sooner or later. I can’t keep up the charade any longer.

  I shrug. “Okay, I remember you. Happy now?”

  He casually props a foot up on the bench, and I can imagine him being a model at a photo shoot doing that pose. “Are you still bitter ’cause we never got it on that night? You didn’t have to steal my clothes to get a peek at the goods, you know. ”

  “I did not steal your clothes. I just hid them. And I don’t remember seeing your …” I gesture
to the general area of his crotch. “It wasn’t memorable, obviously. ”

  But it was. I’ve replayed that image of him, in all his glory, not looking one bit insecure or ashamed of his nakedness, many times. I hate myself for remembering him and everything he’d said to me that night in detail.

  The beginning of a smirk tugs at his lips, because he knows. He knows I remember that moment just as clearly as he does.

  Luis leaps back to his original seat as Mr. Harris walks back in the room.

  “By the way,” Luis whispers to me, “you got numbers three and seven wrong. ”

  I look down at my math homework. “How would you know?”

  He taps his head with his forefinger. “I’m kind of a math whiz. In both questions you forgot that the left-hand side requires the chain rule since y represents a function of x. ”

  I look down at my paper. After a minute of retracing my steps, I find out that he’s right. I look up at him in shock, but his back is turned to me again and Mr. Harris is scanning the room to make sure we’re quiet.

  After an hour, Mr. Harris announces that we’ve completed our detention requirements and are free to leave. Justin is the first to go. He glares at Luis as he passes him. Luis must either pretend not to notice or he doesn’t care.

  I walk out of the room. Luis walks next to me. “Looks like you need a math tutor. ”

  “I don’t hang out with south siders,” I tell him, not stopping as I push open the front door to the school and walk out into the scorching summer heat. “Or date them. ”

  “You don’t date south siders?” he asks, chuckling.

  “Not anymore I don’t. ”

  “I don’t want to hang out with you or date you, Nikki. ” He flashes me a killer smile he’s probably practiced in front of a mirror until it was perfect. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind messin’ around with you, though. Whenever you’re up for it, let me know. ”



  The best thing about surviving the first week of school is that you appreciate weekends and being able to sleep in. That is, except when your little nephew trots in the room while you’re sleeping and mistakes your head for a drum.

  “Hey, muchacho!” I say, picking him up and having him sit on my chest. “If your diaper leaks, you’re outta here. ”

  He flashes me a four-toothed smile.

  Now that Paco is almost two years old, it’s time he learns how to pronounce my name. “Say Luis,” I tell him.

  “Weese,” he says.

  “Not quite, but we’ll work on it. ”

  “Weese,” he says again, getting excited now. He’s bouncing up and down on me, like I’m his horse. “Weese, Weese, Weese!”

  Brittany peeks her head in the open doorway. “Paco, are you bothering Tío Luis?” she asks.

  “Nah,” I tell her. “He’s cool. ”

  After entertaining him for a bit, I take my nephew into the living room, where Alex and Brittany are talking to miamá.

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