Chain reaction, p.26
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       Chain Reaction, p.26

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 26


  “We all have. ” He holds out his hand. “Remember these scars? I wasn’t lyin’ when I said I got bitten by a snake and fell off a cliff right before my brother’s weddin’. I didn’t wear a harness. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I like livin’ on the edge sometimes. Don’t you?”

  “No. Not anymore, at least. ” He keeps flipping through the pictures. The last one in the camera is of Granny. It didn’t do her justice. “Wait here. ” I get Granny and put her in his arms. “Sit over there with her. ”

  He sits by the light and pets Granny while I snap pictures. When he turns her over and scratches her stomach while she lies upside down and practically smiles into the camera, I know I have the perfect picture. Granny might be blind and old, but she’s going to be the perfect pet for me. The fact that Luis is smiling warmly as he pets her makes me want to print out a copy to post on my wall at home. I feel like she’s already mine.

  “Your turn,” he says, giving Granny to me. I hold her while he takes a picture of us on his cell phone.

  My mom calls, telling me I have to come home and help her hang new drapes in our living room. She’s into abstract flower patterns that remind her of some artist named Georgia O’Keeffe or something. “I’ve got to go,” I tell him.

  Luis and I head to the now empty parking lot.

  “Do you think we’re rushing into things?” I ask him.

  “Don’t stress about it, mi chava. It’s all good. ” He slips the helmet over his head and revs the engine to his motorcycle.

  “Don’t kill yourself riding that thing!” I yell.

  He gives me a thumbs-up, then waits until I get in my car before speeding out of the parking lot.

  I come to the realization that my boyfriend is an adrenaline junkie. Can I keep up with him?



  High school soccer games don’t usually have police and security guards at them, except when Fremont plays Fairfield. Our team is pumped on Saturday morning when we play Fremont. We’re rival schools and rival towns with rival gangs. I guess after an incident where a Fremont player got stabbed by a Fairfield player last year, they decided to hire police to patrol the stands and the sidelines just in case all hell breaks loose.

  In the end, we win five to four. Alex, Brittany, Carlos, and Paco stay after the game to talk to some old friends from Fairfield.

  I’m holding Paco when Mariana and a bunch of her friends walk up to me. “Cute kid,” she says.

  Paco is a complete chick magnet. He gives them all high fives, and even calls Mariana “chica” like Alex calls Brittany. It actually sounds like cha-cha and the girls find it hilarious. Man, the kid already knows how to flirt with the chicks. My nephew is advanced in that department, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Fuentes.

  Carlos is standing next to me, shaking hands with this dude I’ve never seen before. “Tell your sister I said hi,” he tells the guy.

  “Who was that?” I ask after the guy walks away.

  “Destiny’s brother. ”

  Destiny. His ex. I don’t know if he’s seen her or talked to her since they broke up years ago. I do know that Carlos was obsessed with the girl and had pictures of her taped above his bed. I know Carlos was bummed when she broke up with him and would have done anything to get her back. That was before Kiara was in the picture, though.

  I look around for Nikki. She’s standing in the bleachers talking to a couple of her friends.

  “Hey, Nik!” I yell up to her.

  She glances at me, then looks away.

  What the hell?

  I’m still holding my nephew as I walk up to her. “What’s up?”

  Her friends say a quick hello, then scatter.

  Nikki crosses her arms on her chest, her Latina attitude clawing its way to the surface. “To be honest, I’m kind of jealous you were all chatty-chatty with Mariana. ”

  “Seriously, you were jealous?” I ask, amused. “That’s cool. ” It means she cares.

  “It’s not funny. You were flirting with her. ”

  “I was not. Paco was. I don’t know if you could blame a kid who’s not even two years old, though. ” I cock my head to the side and change the subject. “Did you see the two goals I made for you?”

  “For me?”

  “Didn’t you see me point to you after I made them?”

  “You were pointing to the sky, Luis. Toward God. ”

  “Same thing. ”

  “It was not, and you know it. ” She takes Paco from me. My nephew plays with her hair, and suddenly I’m the one who’s jealous. “Why are you making a joke out of this?” she asks.

  “Because it’s stupid, Nik. There’s not even room in my day to think about someone else. ” Paco starts kissing her on her cheek with big, sloppy wet ones. “He’s suckin’ up to you. ”

  “At least someone is. ”

  “You tryin’ to fight with me? Before you answer, I should warn you that I find you ridiculously sexy when you’ve got attitude. ”

  “I just … forget it,” she says. “If you don’t even recognize that you’re a flirt, it’s useless to talk about it. ”

  My brothers laugh when they see her giving me the cold shoulder. “Oh, man,” Carlos says. “I think our little bro is in big trouble. ”

  Carlos drapes his arms around both of us. “Kiss and make up, you two. Kiara is comin’ here in less than an hour and I’ve got a task for you guys. You too, Alex. ”

  “What kind of task?” I ask.

  “I need you to dig for miamá’s jewelry box. ”

  Oh, no. Not this again. When Carlos was younger he thought it would be brilliant to pretend he was a pirate hiding his treasure. Miamá’s jewelry box doubled as the booty. Ended up it wasn’t such a brilliant idea because Carlos forgot where he hid the box. Miamá’s wedding ring and every piece of jewelry she’d owned was in there. For years we dug in that small wooded area by our house and came up empty-handed.

  “I don’t think Nikki is gonna want to go treasure huntin’,” I say.

  “I don’t mind,” she says. “Where is it?”

  “That’s a good question. I hid it by the ravine near our house. ” Carlos rubs the top of his crew cut and winces. “I kinda need it pretty bad. Kiara’s comin’ and, well, I just need to find that damn thing. I tried lookin’ this mornin’, but my damn leg gave out. ”

  When Carlos leaves to go pick up Kiara from the airport, the rest of us head over to the ravine with shovels. Nikki had me pick up this German shepherd named Hank from the shelter so he can help with the search, because she swears she can tell he was specially trained at one point in his undocumented life.

  In the woods above the ravine, Alex sections the place out. Alex, Brittany, and I are not optimistic. But Nikki and Hank have enough optimism and energy for all of us. Hank sniffs the air and walks over the sticks and leaves as he and Nikki head to their designated section.

  Brittany waves the small garden shovel in the air, like she’s raising her hand. “How deep do we have to dig?” she calls out.

  “I don’t know,” Alex tells her. “I figure not too deep ’cause Carlos was a kid who hated breakin’ a sweat. ”

  I start digging, spacing my holes about ten inches apart in a grid pattern so I don’t miss anything. The jewelry box was white, so it should be easy to find. I look over at Nikki. She’s talking to the dog and instructing him to “go find it!” Seriously, is a dog supposed to know what it means? I laugh as Hank sniffs away. The second he settles on a spot, Nikki starts digging away. She’s so intent on her task, she doesn’t look up.

  Which means I can watch her.

  I know what she’s thinking. In her mind, Carlos needs her. He’s desperate to find the jewelry box, and I know she’s more than motivated to find it for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if she dug in every spot Hank sniffs until darkness falls. My girl is on a mission. I don’t have the heart to tell
her that Hank might be sniffing for a place to shit, not because he’s actually following a scent.

  I wonder what she’d say if I told her I need her, too.

  After twenty minutes and about five false alarms, I hear Nikki screaming, “I think Hank found it!”

  My head pops up and I see Nikki on her knees, waving her arms back and forth so we can see her. Sure enough, when I get close I see she’s dug out a tiny section of what looks like it could be a jewelry box. Hank is barking now, crazy excited.

  “That dog is a fuckin’ genius, Nikki,” Alex says, taking his shovel and digging the rest of it out. Moments later, I help lift it free.

  “I’m textin’ Carlos and tellin’ him we found it,” I say as Alex pries open the rotted top.

  Nikki’s got a huge grin as she praises Hank and gives him a treat she stashed in her pocket. I’m still in shock and can’t believe the dog had anything to do with it. Maybe it was just plain luck, but then again, when I look down at the dog I think he’s got a proud grin on his face.

  Alex takes out miamá’s engagement ring and holds it up to the light shining through the trees. The diamond glitters in the light.

  Back home, Nikki announces the good news to miamá. Miamá opens the box and takes out her wedding band and engagement ring. She slips them on as tears run down her cheeks. “It’s been so long,” she says, choking back the words. Paco asks her if she’s got a boo-boo because she’s crying. “Yes,” she says to him. “I have a boo-boo. ”

  Ma places the rings back in the dirty box just as Carlos and Kiara walk in the door. Kiara is yelling at Carlos for carrying her luggage in the house when he’s not fully healed, but he’s just ignoring her protests. Kiara should know by now that he’s one stubborn motherfucker. They’re checking into a nearby hotel later, but he didn’t want to leave her expensive luggage in the car while it was parked in front of the house.

  “Are you two seriously fightin’?” Alex asks. “You haven’t seen each other in over a year. ”

  “We like to argue,” Carlos tells him. “It’s one of the two things we do best. Right, mamacita?”

  Kiara rolls her eyes. “Remind m-m-me why I’m in love with you again?”

  Carlos gives her a mischievous grin as he pulls her close. “I’ll show you later. ”

  Kiara seems content with that answer as she hugs me, Brittany, and Alex.

  “This is my girlfriend, Nikki,” I tell her, then point to the dirty dog panting on the floor. “And that’s Hank the orphan. ”

  Nikki isn’t prepared for Kiara to hug her like a long-lost sister, and then go over to pet Hank, who rolls onto his back for full exposure.

  Brittany and Alex leave to pick up Shelley, Brittany’s sister. She lives in a care facility for people with disabilities, but spends most weekends at Alex and Brit’s place. Paco loves riding in her wheelchair and has no clue she’s disabled. Nikki and Shelley obviously know each other from previous interactions and, when Shelly arrives, immediately start chatting about dogs and the shelter. Nikki promises to take Shelley to the shelter one day, which makes Shelley squeal with happiness and Brittany smile with gratitude.

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