Chain reaction, p.21
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       Chain Reaction, p.21

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 21


  I took the coward’s way out.

  “Nikki, wait!” Kendall grabs her purse. “We’re going with you for moral support. ”

  “Thanks, but I need to do this on my own. ”

  Kendall gives me an understanding, sympathetic look. “Just remember that if it was meant to be, it’s all good!”

  It makes me wonder if it wasn’t meant to be, how bad can it get?



  I walk home, glad miamá is working so I can be alone and lock myself in my room. The second I walk in the house, I realize that’s not an option. Both of my brothers are sitting on the couch in the living room. I haven’t seen Carlos in over a year, and wasn’t expecting him to be released from the hospital in Germany until next week. He looks fine, but when he gets up I can tell it’s not without pain.

  “Hey, bro!” I say. “They let you out early?”

  I couldn’t stand bein’ in the hospital, so I made them release me early. I almost don’t recognize you,” Carlos says, giving me the once-over. “You’re sportin’ some badass bruises. How does the other guy look?”

  “You mean the other five guys?”

  Carlos whistles in appreciation as he turns to Alex. “Our little brother has turned into quite the fighter while I was away. ”

  “Tell me about it,” Alex mumbles. “Ask him who he’s been hangin’ with. ”

  Carlos raises an eyebrow. “Who you hangin’ with, Luis?”

  “None of your business. Alex, where’s Brit and Paco?”

  “At her parents’ house for dinner. I got out of goin’ when I heard Carlos was flyin’ in today. So, Luis … I got a text from Julio a few minutes ago sayin’ you got the boot. What happened to your job at the country club?”

  “That’s also none of your business. ”

  “You’re our little brother,” Carlos says, advancing on me like a soldier on a mission. “Everythin’ you do is our business. ”

  The last thing I need is my brothers giving me shit, especially now. I would push Carlos away, but supposedly he’s got a nasty gash complete with a shitload of stitches on his leg from shrapnel that wedged itself into his muscle.

  “Lay off,” I tell him, but my words fall on deaf ears.

  Carlos attempts to pin me to the wall like he did when we were kids. I’m too fast and slip out of his reach, but not before he grabs my T-shirt and pulls it hard to get me to face him.

  “You’re packin’ heat, aren’t you?” he says as he lets go of my shirt.

  Shit. Busted. Alex is up in a flash. He stands next to Carlos and both of my brothers form a human wall, preventing me from escaping.

  “Give it to me,” Alex growls.

  Carlos shakes his head. “What the fuck, Luis? You gangbangin’?”

  I hear the front door open and miamá’s voice call out, “What’s going on?”

  Reyes is standing behind her in uniform.

  Carlos immediately blocks me protectively. “You got a warrant?” he asks.

  “Carlos,” miamá snaps in a scolding tone. “Don’t be rude. I invited Cesar over for dinner. ”

  “Who the hell is Cesar?” Carlos asks.

  “Our next-door neighbor,” I explain. “And landlord. ”

  Carlos looks from me, to Alex, then to miamá. “Is this some sort of joke?”

  “I’m afraid not,” Alex says.

  Miamá sets down her groceries in the kitchen, then comes back in the room. “What are you doing home so early, Luis?”

  “I got fired. ”

  She blinks a few times in shock. “Fired?”

  “They didn’t want an employee with bruises from a fight servin’ customers. ”

  Miamá shakes her head in disappointment and sighs. Damn, I think she’s about to cry. I wonder if it’s because Officer Friendly is here. She excuses herself and sullenly escapes back to the kitchen.

  Reyes steps forward and holds out his hand to Carlos. “You must be Carlos. Your mother is really proud of your service. It’s nice to finally meet you. ”

  While Carlos and Reyes shake hands, Alex slaps me on the shoulder. “Luis and I will be right back,” he tells them.

  In my room, which used to be our room, Alex goes all father-figure on me. “You better not be dealin’ drugs,” he says in a harsh whisper so Reyes can’t hear us.

  “I’m not. ”

  “Why did you get fired? Don’t bullshit me. ”

  “It wasn’t for gangbangin’, Alex. I already said I got fired for havin’ bruises on my face … and for bein’ late for work,” I add.

  “Why were you late?” Alex asks, not letting up on his interrogation. I think he chose the wrong profession.

  “Peterson gave me a detention. Now lay off, bro. I’m not strapped, and I’m not dealin’ drugs. Seriously, Alex, stop puttin’ your shit on me. ” I pull up my shirt and show him that I’m hiding a black rolled-up notebook in my waistband. I pull it out. “I don’t have a gun in my waistband. I have this. ”

  Carlos, who just popped in the room, pulls the notebook from my hand. “What’s this?”

  “The gun you thought he was hidin’ in his pants,” Alex says. “It’s a notebook, Sherlock. ”

  Carlos opens the notebook and starts reading the first page out loud.

  “Nobody really knows her

  Except the chosen few

  Her secrets are kept hidden

  Behind that sun-kissed hue. ”

  “Give me that!” I yell as I try to grab the notebook back. Carlos yanks it out of my reach and continues reading.

  “If I reach out to touch her

  She’ll just run away

  My Forever and Always

  Will have to wait another day. ”

  “Holy shit, bro. That’s deep. Alex, I would’ve bet that you were the sappiest one in this family, but I was wrong. Luis beats you, hands down. ” Carlos rolls the notebook back up and hands it to me. “Who’s the lucky girl?”

  “Doesn’t matter. She thinks I’m scum. ”

  Carlos laughs. “That means she likes you, bro. Shit, the first time I met Kiara, she thought I was an asshole. ”

  “You were an asshole,” Alex chimes in.

  “Damn straight,” Carlos says, completely proud of it. “Girls like assholes; at least they did when I was in high school. We’re a challenge for ’em. Kiara was different. ” He laughs just thinking about his girlfriend. “Kiara, on the other hand, was my challenge. She didn’t make it easy for me. ”

  Nikki’s not making it easy for me, either. Man, life used to be so simple until we moved back to Fairfield. I had a solid, foolproof ten-year plan. Now that I’m back, all my plans have turned to shit. Today I was forced to make a choice between my family’s safety and my own future.

  I had to take the detour. Mi familia comes first. They’ll always come first.

  I had to take the gun Chuy put on the table. I pledged my loyalty to the Blood after that, which screws everything up. How long can I keep the truth from my brothers when they’re already suspicious?

  “Alex! Luis! Carlos! Come help set the table!” miamá calls out to us.

  My brothers practically jump to attention when they hear her voice.

  “We’ll talk about this later,” Alex promises.

  I play it cool until everyone is occupied in the kitchen. It’s my opening to find a place to hide the gun.

  When Reyes came in, I maneuvered the Glock so it was hidden in my shorts. Nobody saw me slip a notebook from my backpack and roll it up. I didn’t think I could pull it off, but I did. I swear a few times I thought the gun was about to slip down, but by some miracle it held until Alex walked out of the room.

  Now I’ve got to stash it so my brothers won’t find it, and Paco won’t accidentally get hold of it when he comes over and mistakes it for a toy. Without having time to think, I rush to my closet and shove the Glock in the pocket of the one and only suit I own. I’ve worn it to weddings, f
unerals, and a few quinces. The suit is in the back of the closet, so I’m confident it’s safely hidden. I walk back to the kitchen and hope I don’t have guilt written all over my face.

  “Hey, Ma. Did you know Luis has a crush on a girl?” Carlos says when we’re all eating at the small kitchen table. Even Reyes is still here, but since he’s gotten the hint that we’re not thrilled he’s in the picture, he’s been quiet.

  “That’s news to me,” miamá says. She doesn’t even look in my direction, clearly still pissed at me for getting in a fight and losin’ my job.

  I’m glad when the doorbell rings and interrupts the silence.

  “Expectin’ anyone?” Alex asks as he moves toward the front door.

  “No,” miamá says.

  My cousin Elena stomps in the house like a tornado. Everything about Elena is big. She’s got big hair, a big personality, and … well, let’s just say she doesn’t need silicone implants. Elena is hilarious, but she is one scary Latina when she’s pissed. “Is the bastard here?” she asks.

  Alex shrugs. “And the bastard would be …”

  “Jorge. You know, my cheating husband. ”

  Miamá rushes to Elena’s side. “What happened?”

  “I found him at Homestyle Buffet with that tramp Nina Herrera. ”

  “Who’s Nina Herrera?” I ask.

  “His high school girlfriend. I caught them in the act. ”

  “You caught them having sex at Homestyle Buffet?” Carlos chimes in, confused and maybe a little amused.

  “No. They had dinner! When was the last time my sonofabitch husband took me to dinner, huh? Huh? Huh? Anyone want to answer that question?” She gestures to each of us, then sneers when she focuses on Reyes. “Lorena, are you aware that you’ve got a cop sitting at your dinner table?”

  “I’m Cesar,” he says, standing as he introduces himself.

  She stares at the handcuffs secured to his uniform, just waiting to be slapped on an unsuspecting criminal. Considering Elena herself had run-ins with la ley when she was younger, she doesn’t trust cops any more than the rest of us do. She takes a step away from Cesar as if he has some infectious disease.

  “Yeah, umm …” She turns to miamá and murmurs fast and furious, “Whatthefuckareyoudoingwithacopinyourhouse?”

  She says it as if it’s all one word.

  Miamá’s response is, “He’s a friend. ”

  Elena nods as slow as her brain is processing the information. “He’s a friend? Since when did you become friends with cops? Wait, maybe this is a sign!” She plasters a big smile on her face and turns to Reyes. “I need you to arrest my cheating husband. ”

  “While I’d really like to help you,” Reyes says, “I can’t legally do that. ”

  “Who said anything about doing it legally?”

  “She’s kidding, right?” Cesar asks miamá, who shrugs with embarrassment.

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