Chain reaction, p.19
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       Chain Reaction, p.19

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 19


  I fight one guy to the ground, punching until he stops fighting back. Then Dougan and I get into it. He throws a punch that hits me square in the jaw. I retaliate with a punch of my own that brings him down.

  I don’t even notice the flashing blue lights of a cop car until two cops pin me to the ground. One puts his knee on my back and starts to handcuff me. I look over and see another two cops handcuff Marco.

  “Get up, Luis,” one of the officers orders.

  Huh? I know that voice. I turn to look at the officer. Holy crap. It’s none other than Officer Reyes, my next-door neighbor and the guy who’s been flirting with miamá.

  “Shit,” I groan. “Not you. ”

  “You know this kid?” another cop asks Reyes.

  “Yeah. And I know his ma ain’t gonna be happy he got in a fight. ” Reyes looks on the ground right next to me. Two packets wrapped in blue cellophane are lying in the grass. “What are those?” he asks me. “Those come out of your pockets when you were fighting?”

  “No. ”

  He picks up the packets.

  “Looks like blow to me,” one of the cops holding Marco says. “You two been dealing tonight?” he asks us.

  Marco shakes his head. “No, sir. ”

  “Cesar, I swear they’re not mine,” I tell him.

  I glance up at the crowd and see Nikki, standing with her hand over her mouth in shock. When our eyes meet, she turns away in disgust. She doesn’t believe me.

  From the look on Reyes’s face, he doesn’t believe me, either.

  He lets out a slow breath and shakes his head in frustration. “All right. You two, over by the squad cars. Now!”

  I’m told to spread my legs so Reyes can pat me down.

  “Got any weapons, drugs, or needles on you, Luis?”

  “No,” I say.

  “You high or drunk?” he asks, his hands patting up and down my legs.

  “No. ”

  “Then why were you fighting?”

  I shrug. “Just felt like it, I guess. ” I’m sure he doesn’t give a shit if the pendejo called us wetbacks and thinks Mexicans should be second-class citizens.

  “Think hard, because I’m the one who’s gonna have to call your mother to explain why I have you in custody and suspect you were dealing some pretty serious shit. I’d rather give her a reason why you thought it was a good idea to come all the way to the north side of town to cause trouble. ”

  What, does Reyes think that poor Mexicans are only allowed on the north side to mow lawns and clean houses, too? “I didn’t come here to cause trouble,” I tell him.

  “Really? Why are you here?”

  “He was invited,” Derek’s voice calls out. “By me. ”

  “And who the hell are you?” Reyes asks.

  “I live here. ”

  “Let me see some ID. ” Derek pulls out his ID and Reyes examines it.

  Reyes gives a short laugh. “Happy birthday. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  “Listen, I’m sure you’re aware that the legal drinking age in Illinois is twenty-one. You’re eighteen. ” Reyes tsks and shakes his head. “Where are your parents?”

  “Vegas. ”

  “So you thought you’d host yourself a birthday bash while they were gone?”

  Derek nods. “Seemed like a good idea at the time. ”

  “Uh-huh. Get everyone out of your house, lock it up, and come to the station with us so we can call your parents,” Reyes says.

  Derek is one cool gringo to come out here and vouch for me. “Don’t take him in, Reyes,” I say. “Give the guy a break. It’s his birthday. ”

  Reyes shakes his head. “Birthdays aren’t a license to break the law, Luis. ”

  I’m led to the back of one of the squad cars, while Marco and Derek are led to the other. Two officers drive them away while Reyes walks over to Dougan and his buddies. He talks to them for a while, taking notes the entire time. After a while Reyes and his partner walk back to the squad car I’m in.

  Reyes gets in the driver’s seat and turns to me. “You really screwed up tonight. ”

  “Tell me ’bout it. ”

  “Listen, Luis. I care about your mother. You being involved in fighting and drug dealing is gonna hurt her real bad. ”

  “I already told you the coca wasn’t mine. ”

  “Was it your buddy’s stash?”

  I shrug. “I don’t know. ”

  “Here’s the deal. I’m gonna let you and your friends off tonight after calling their parents, because I didn’t find the drugs on your person and a few witnesses said that you and Marco were harassed before the fight. But I’ll be watching you like a fucking hawk from now on. If I find out you’re dealing or getting into more fights, I’ll be on your ass so fast your head will spin. ”

  Shit, this guy is worming his way into miamá’s life, and now he’s going all parental on me. I’ve lived without a father my entire life, and have done just fine.

  “You’re not my father,” I remind him.

  “You’re right. If I were, I’d lock you in juvie for the night to teach you a lesson. ”



  I let my guard down, which was not in the plan. Tonight, when Luis and I were in the pool house, I allowed myself to believe Luis and Marco are completely different.

  That was before I saw him fight.

  Luis and Marco were on the same side, fighting Justin and some guys from the football team. Luis’s fists were flying, and the worst part about it was that I think he liked it—as if the fight fed some need in him.

  I don’t know who started the fight. It doesn’t matter, really. Luis didn’t walk away. Instead, he was the last man standing, ready to take anyone on that would dare challenge him. He didn’t stop until the cops physically restrained him.

  And then I saw the drugs on the ground right by his feet.

  I can’t be with someone who fights and deals drugs. Marco used to fight so much he’d get suspended. Principal Aguirre says he has a zero tolerance policy, but quickly realized when our class entered Fairfield freshman year that if he gave everyone three strikes and then expelled them, there’d hardly be any students from the south side left. Aguirre still threatens to expel students, but rarely follows through.

  I need to force myself to stop thinking about Luis. As I fall into bed after I get home, I can’t help but hate myself for feeling so vulnerable tonight. I let go of my inhibitions and knew what I was doing. But Luis didn’t tell me he was dealing drugs—that’s a game changer.

  Sunday morning comes and I wake up hoping Granny has started eating on her own.

  “How is Granny doing?” I ask Sue.

  “She won’t eat much. She’s definitely depressed. ”

  I go to her cage and sit with her.

  Granny sniffs the air as soon as I open her cage. “Hey, girl,” I say as I reach out and lead her to my lap. “Did you miss me?”

  Her answer is a wag of her tail. She looks thin. Too thin.

  I pet her behind the ears and she rolls onto her back. When she seems content, I pick up the food in her bowl and hand-feed her. She eats from my hand when I put the food to her nose.

  “Want me to take you home?”

  She answers by nuzzling her nose into my leg.

  “I just have to convince my parents to let me take you,” I tell her.

  When I’m home and I tell my parents about Granny, they both say I can’t have her.

  “You have too much going on,” Mom says.

  “And when you’re off to college, then what?” Dad says.

  “But she’s old, and blind, and living in a cage! If you were old and blind, would you want to spend your last days in a cage?” I argue.

  Mom pats my hand. “Nikki, we think it’s admirable for you to want to help the dog, but—”

  I sigh. “Just … can you meet her? Meet her first, then make a decision, okay? I’m sure she’ll
be a great pet, and I know when you take one look at her you’ll have the same opinion that I do about her. ”

  They both look at me as if I’m pathetic. I know what they’re thinking, that I’m trying to take care of a needy animal because I need to be wanted. We’ve covered this ground before. Maybe they’re right. I can’t help but have a special bond with the less fortunate dogs who come into the shelter—the ones who seem helpless. I root for the underdog, every time.

  “I’ll tell you what,” Dad says. “Next weekend, if Granny is still there, your mother and I will go meet her. ”

  A big grin crosses my face. “That’s awesome! Thanks so much!” I hug both of them.

  “We’re making no promises, Nikki. ”

  “I know, I know. ” Well, I do know. Once they see Granny they’ll fall in love with her.

  On Monday, the buzz about the fight at Derek’s house, the arrests, and the drugs found by Luis’s feet is running rampant. I can’t walk down any hall without hearing something about Luis, Derek, or Marco.

  I get some sideways glances, too. Everyone at school knows Marco and I dated, and some still associate us together.

  I avoid eye contact with Luis even when he calls out my name, and during lunch I sit in the library and study for my calculus exam so there’s no chance of meeting with him or Marco. I know I’ll be seeing Luis in chemistry, though.

  I time my arrival so I get to chemistry just as the bell rings.

  “You can’t ignore me forever,” Luis whispers behind me when Mrs. Peterson instructs us to go to the sink in the back of the room to clean out our test tubes.

  “Yes, I can,” I tell him.

  “What about Saturday night, in the pool house?”

  I freeze, remembering the moment I let go of all my inhibitions. That was a mistake, and the wall is up again. “I’m trying to forget it. ”

  “You can try, but it’s not gonna work. ” He leans closer. “I can’t forget it either, you know. ”

  His words stir something deep inside me, and I need to lash out at him to push him away. “You know what sucks, though? You starting a fight just minutes later with Justin Dougan and finding out that you were dealing drugs. ”

  He steps back and weaves a hand through his hair. “Yeah, that was a bummer. You know what sucks even more, though?”


  “That you’re so desperate to believe everythin’ bad you hear about me. You’re obviously not a supporter of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ concept. ”

  “Mr. Fuentes,” Mrs. Peterson calls out. “Stop the chatter. Are you aware there are people in back of you who need to use the sink?”

  Luis looks right at our teacher and says, “To be honest, Mrs. P. , I don’t really give a shit. ”



  I’m done worrying about getting detentions—staying after school for an hour is obviously going to be a common occurence so I might as well embrace it. In fact, the last time I had a detention I actually got some homework done. The problem is getting a detention from a teacher who insists that you serve the detention in her classroom instead of in the cafeteria with all the other delinquents.

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