Chain reaction, p.17
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       Chain Reaction, p.17

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 17


  Unless he expects me to replace Alex in the gang.

  “I thought you were in jail,” I say.

  He smiles, with the cigar still hanging out of the side of his mouth. “Let’s just say I got out on a technicality. ” He leans forward and talks in a low voice. “Listen, I need to rebuild the Latino Blood, and you’re gonna help me do it. ”

  “Why me? I’m not connected. ”

  “That’s where you’re wrong, Luis. You were born a Blood. ” He pats me on the back. “And you’ll be an LB until the day you die. ”

  “If I were an animal, I’d most likely be …” by Luis Fuentes

  Normally I like writing essays. Last year I wrote a paper in English about why certain aspects of Mexican culture had been integrated so completely into American society. I got an A, of course. Mr. Heilmann somehow got it printed in the local newspaper, which was pretty cool.

  But now I’m stumped, which rarely happens. I bet most guys in my class’ll choose a lion, the king of the jungle. I’m not the king, and never have been.

  Thinking of a king reminds me of Chuy Soto.

  My pen is poised over my paper. I wonder if I was drunk last night or if Chuy really did say he expects me to help him rebuild the Latino Blood. I gaze at a picture of Alex, Brittany, and Paco on the wall.

  Miamá has the day off. I realize she’s not cooking like I thought. She’s got a cigarette perched between her fingers as she stands over the sink.

  “I hate when you smoke,” I tell her.

  “It relaxes me. ” She takes a drag of the cigarette and taps the ash in the sink. “I got offered a job yesterday, as a receptionist. It’s at the hospital where Elena works. ”

  “That’s cool. ”

  “It’s decent money, and includes health benefits,” she says, then lifts the cigarette to her lips again.

  “You okay, Ma? You look like you’re freakin’ out. ”

  “Estoy bien. ” She blows out smoke. “Well, everything’s not fine. I got a call today that Carlos was injured. ”

  I start to panic as horrific images of soldiers who’ve come back in wheelchairs and lost limbs swirl in my head. “What happened? Give it to me straight. ”

  “Nothing serious, but bad enough that he’s coming home to recuperate. ”

  “What do you mean it’s nothin’ serious?” I ask. “If he’s comin’ home, it’s got to be bad. ”

  “It’s his leg. He had to have surgery and couldn’t join the rest of his unit, so they’re forcing him to take a medical leave. He also has to decide it he wants to reenlist. I want him home, but …”

  “You heard that Chuy Soto got out of jail. ”

  “Elena just found out from Jorge. ” She points the cigarette at the doorway. “You just make sure you stay away from him. I don’t want you or Carlos getting messed up with him, or the LB. ”

  Too late for that. I rub the knot forming in the back of my neck. How do I say this? I hesitate and my palms get sweaty. “Ma, did I get ‘blessed in’ the LB?”

  “Where did you hear that?”

  “Chuy Soto said somethin’ to me about bein’ born a Blood and, well, I didn’t know what he meant. ”

  She points to me, her finger shaking. “You don’t listen to Chuy, Luis. You hear me? Just stay away from him. ”

  “He’s runnin’ things again. He wants to rebuild the LB. ”

  I know I have a crazy, dangerous streak—an urge to charge into danger. For the most part I’ve controlled it, but when I met Chuy last night … I kinda got an adrenaline rush at the prospect of facing him head on—to make him pay for his part in Alex’s jumping out, which almost cost him his life.

  Miamá takes another drag of her cigarette. “Just keep your distance and don’t ask questions. ”

  “Don’t I have the right to know why the new head of the Blood thinks I’m one of them?” I ask her.

  She cups my cheek in her hand. “No, Luis. No questions. We’re always better off not asking questions. You’re safe. We’re all safe as long as you stay away from Chuy. ”

  I don’t tell her that I don’t want to stay away, because I want to find out what Chuy has planned. The more power he has, the less power the rest of us in Fairfield have. If Chuy has control, he can order revenge on Alex. If my family is in danger, I need to know.

  Getting close to Chuy is my only option.



  Derek always has a party on his birthday because his parents are always out of town at a yearly sales conference at the same time. It’s something everyone at Fairfield looks forward to. I was really excited to come to Derek’s party tonight. I haven’t opened up physically or emotionally with Luis since we went on Derek’s boat two weeks ago, but I’ve thought about it every day.

  Kendall and I arrived at the party early to decorate the house. Derek took his older brother’s ID and bought a few kegs. Normally I don’t drink, but Luis texted me and said he was definitely coming here tonight.

  “What are you doing?” Derek asks as I fill a plastic cup to the rim with beer and start to gulp it down.

  “Losing my inhibitions,” I tell him. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

  “You don’t drink, Nikki. ”

  I raise my cup in the air. “I do now. ”

  “Kendall!” Derek yells, obviously not knowing how to deal with me. “Come here!”

  Kendall peeks into the kitchen. “What’s up?”

  Derek gestures to me. “Your best friend is having a solo pre-party. ”

  Kendall laughs as I take another gulp. “Umm … not a good idea, Nik. ”

  “Yes, it is. Luis is coming here tonight. ” I’m starting to feel less stressed about being with him the more I drink.

  Kendall and Derek give each other knowing looks.

  “It’s not what you think,” I tell them. “I just want to know what it would be like to pretend we’re a couple. ”

  “Pretend? Just admit that you like him,” Kendall says. “And deal with those feelings. Getting drunk is like a bandage that won’t stick. ”

  “I told you, I don’t have feelings for him. ” I laugh at the thought.

  Kendall pats Derek on the chest. “Derek, do something … say something. ”

  Derek holds up his hands. “I’m not touching this conversation with a ten-foot pole. ” He quickly leaves as the doorbell rings.

  I’ve almost downed the entire cup, and pour myself more. “Do you know Luis was the first guy I kissed since Marco?”

  “I know,” Kendall says.

  “I think about it a lot. More than a lot, actually. Luis is the perfect one to practice on, right?”

  Kendall takes the cup out of my hand. “I don’t think you should use a guy for practice. You’ll hurt him. ”

  “No, I won’t,” I assure her. “He’s admitted he’s a player, just like Marco. He’s the one who said we should just have fun. I’ll make sure he knows whatever happens between us is just casual. ”

  “Girls like Mariana do casual hookups, not you,” Kendall says. When I grab another cup and fill it to the rim, she drops the subject. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ”

  “I’ll be fine. You tell me I need to loosen up. Luis tells me the same thing … I’m gonna give it a try. ”

  An hour later music is blaring and the place is crowded. I’m definitely buzzed, and want to find Luis. I down the rest of whatever’s in my cup, toss it in the garbage, and push through the crowd to find him. He’s nowhere in sight. I ask around, but nobody’s seen him.

  “Hey, Nikki,” Justin Dougan says, smiling wide with teeth that are so white I bet a blind person could see them. “You look hot. ”

  “Umm … I kinda had plans with …” I’m about to say Luis, but we don’t really have plans. I have plans. I just assume Luis will go along with them. And hanging out with Justin Dougan is definitely not in my plans.

  “Go upstairs with me,” he says, taking my elbow
and urging me away from the throng of partiers.

  “I’m not going upstairs with you, Justin. ” He’s not the one in my fantasies.

  “Trust me,” Justin says. “I won’t try anything. ”

  “I don’t trust any guy who says ‘trust me. ’ I … need some air. ”

  “Fine. Then walk outside with me. ”

  Before I can protest, Justin leads me outside to the pool deck. The entire time I’m craning my neck to see if I can catch a glimpse of Luis, with no luck. He said he’d be here, but maybe he changed his mind.

  Justin is drunk, too. I can tell by the way he stumbles across the deck before sitting on one of the lounge chairs. “Sit next to me,” he says, then grabs my wrist and urges me down. “You look like a hot tamale. ”

  “That’s not really a compliment,” I tell him.

  He leans toward me. I don’t know if he’s falling on me or trying to feel me up. Either way, he smells like beer and sweat. It’s not a good mix. I push him off me.

  “Hey,” I hear Luis say as he steps into view.

  He looks good in jeans that hang off his hips just the slightest bit and a T-shirt that looks so worn it’s probably as soft as silk.

  Justin glances up at him. “Go away, Mex. ”

  “Nikki is also Mexican, you dumbass,” Luis says.

  Justin stiffens. “Who you calling a dumbass?”

  “Nobody! He didn’t mean it,” I say. “Right, Luis?”

  “Not really,” Luis says. “I meant it. ”

  Justin is about to get up and challenge Luis when Derek grabs Justin’s arm and steers him away from Luis. “Dougan, I need your help. ”

  “With what?” Justin asks.

  “Just … something. ” Derek leads him into the house, leaving me alone with Luis.

  Luis is looking at me as if I’ve betrayed him. “What were you doin’ sittin’ with that pendejo?”

  “I didn’t actually sit with him … Okay, I did but …” I sigh. Tonight is not going as I planned. I’m buzzed, and I don’t know how to explain that I’ve been waiting for him this entire time. I can show him, though. “Follow me. ”

  He hesitates.

  “Come on,” I say, taking his hand and leading him toward the pool house. I know the key is hidden in the planter. I take it out and open the door with one thing on my mind: to let go of my inhibitions and kiss Luis like I did in my house. This time, we won’t be interrupted. Luis attempts to turn on the light switch, but I put my hand over his.

  “Lock the door,” I tell him.

  He does.

  I walk farther into the room. “I didn’t want to be with Justin tonight. You’re right, he is a pendejo. ”

  “I didn’t like seeing you with him,” he says. “I don’t think I’d like seein’ you with any other guy … besides me. ”

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