Chain reaction, p.3
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       Chain Reaction, p.3

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


  I tell the girls that I’ll text them when I can use my hands, and they leave right before miamá walks back in the room.

  “Who brought the balloons?” she asks. “Was it those girls I saw in the hallway?”

  “Yeah,” I tell her. “They’re just friends from school. ” No use getting into detail about how I’ve made out with three out of the five of them at one point or another. That will bring on another lecture I definitely want to avoid.

  The doc releases me a half hour later, after giving miamá instructions on how to rewrap my wounds at home.

  “You’re not invincible,” Alex tells me after Brittany and miamá walk out of the room. “None of us are. Remember that. ”

  “I know. ”

  He pokes a finger into my chest and blocks my path. “You listen to me, Luis, because I know all too well what was goin’ through that head of yours when you decided to climb that rock without safety gear. You liked the rush of knowin’ you were sayin’ fuck you to danger. I’ve got one brother in the military, a best friend who’s been six feet under for more than four years, and I’m not about to sit back while my baby brother gets la tengo dura by flirtin’ with danger. ”

  “You take life too seriously,” I say, moving past him. “I’m not your baby brother anymore, Alex, and I’m not as innocent as you think. I’m almost sixteen. You know that girl Brooke who brought me cookies? She’s not innocent, either. You want to know how I know that?”

  I can’t help but crack a grin as Alex puts his hands over his ears like earmuffs.

  “Don’t tell me,” he says. “You’re too fuckin’ young, bro. I swear, if you get a girl pregnant you’ll have more than just two bandaged hands to deal with. ”



  I don’t know how much time has gone by. Every time I get a call on my cell and realize it’s not Marco, I ignore it. Every time I get a text from one of my friends, I ignore it.

  I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting on the beach crying, but I don’t care. I tell my baby to give me strength, but I feel as weak as ever.

  Until I hear a familiar voice. “Nik!”

  I look up. It’s Kendall. Kendall and I have been best friends since preschool, when we both wore the same dress on picture day and told everyone we were twins even when Miss Trudy said that lying wasn’t part of the school’s “core principles. ” We didn’t know what “core principles” were back when we were four, but when Miss Trudy talked about them in her stern voice we knew we were in trouble.

  Before I say anything, she kneels down to me. “I heard. ”

  She might have heard about the breakup, but she has no clue I might be pregnant. I bury my face in my hands. “I can’t believe this. ”

  “I know. ” She sits beside me.

  “He picked the gang over me. ” I look up at my friend who has light hair and hazel eyes—the exact opposite of me. “He said I wasn’t Mexican enough. ”

  Kendall shakes her head and snorts. “He’s an idiot. ”

  I sniff a few times, then try to wipe the tears off my face. “How did you find out?”

  She winces. “I tried to call you and text you, but you didn’t answer. So I texted Marco and asked where you were. He told me. ”

  “I told him I loved him. Then he said he wanted to see other people. Then he said he was already hanging out with the Blood and we could be friends. Friends with benefits, Kendall. Can you believe it? As if I could just turn my feelings off like a faucet. ”

  Just saying the words friends and benefits in the same breath makes me cringe.

  Kendall sighs. “I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but you’ll find someone else. ”

  “I can’t do this without him. ”

  “Do what?” she asks, confused.

  I look up at her, the one friend I can trust more than anyone else. “I might … be pregnant. ”

  Her look of shock mixed with a hefty amount of pity is enough to make me cry all over again.

  She puts her hands on either side of my face and urges me to look at her. “You’re going to be fine, Nikki. I’m here for you. You know that, right?”

  I nod. I wish I’d heard those words come out of Marco’s mouth.

  “How late are you?” she asks.

  “A week and a half. ”

  “Did you take a pregnancy test?”

  I shake my head. I guess I thought after I told Marco, we’d get one together at a drugstore a few towns over where nobody knew us.

  Kendall urges me to get up. “First, I’m going to get a pregnancy test for you. Then we’re going to figure it out. Listen, it is what it is and you can’t change it. Let’s find out so we know for sure. Cool?”

  Truth is, at this point I don’t know if I want to know for sure. Ignorance is bliss, right?

  I’m silent as Kendall drives me to a drugstore and back to her house. I sit on the edge of her tub and bite my fingernails nervously while she reads the instructions and hands me the stick I’m supposed to pee on so I know if I’m carrying Marco’s baby.

  I look at the stick. “I can’t,” I tell Kendall. “I just … need to see Marco one more time. I need to talk to him face-to-face before I do this. He’ll be at Malnatti’s. If I can pull him away from the party and talk to him, maybe we can work things out. ”

  “I … I don’t know if that’s a good idea. ”

  “I have to see to him tonight, Kendall. ” I look down at the pregnancy test. “I can’t do this without him. ”

  I know I sound desperate. I just have to find out if there’s anything I can do to change his mind about the Latino Blood … and me … and dealing drugs.

  Kendall stands. “You sure you want to talk to him tonight?”

  “Yeah. ” I feel like I have so much to say, and was too caught off guard to say it before. If he knows how much I truly care about him, he’s got to change his mind. I can’t imagine any girl loving him more than I do. I put the pregnancy test back in the package and shove it in my purse.

  “Come on, let’s get you ready then,” she says, taking me to her room and scanning her closet to pick something for me to wear. “I think seeing Marco right now is a horrible idea, but if you’re determined, I’m not going to stop you. First I’m going to make sure you look so hot, Marco will shit in his pants when he takes one look at you. ”

  In the end, Kendall picks out tight skinny jeans and a designer top that her mom gave her after she decided she didn’t want it anymore. At the party, I take a deep breath and hold my head high as I walk through the big white tent at Malnatti’s with Kendall at my side.

  I scan the main area. It seems like the entire school is here celebrating the beginning of summer break.

  Music is playing.

  Some people are eating.

  Some people are dancing.

  I scan the tent for the familiar face that makes my heart race every time I look at him.

  I finally see him … making out with Mariana Castillo in the back corner. She’s one of the tough, pretty Latino Blood homegirls that most girls at Fairfield steer clear of. He’s kissing her in that familiar way I know all too well. And feeling her ass with hands that touched my naked body just two days ago.


  I close my eyes, wishing the image would disappear. But it doesn’t.

  I open my eyes, and now I notice that most of the freshmen and sophomores are staring at me. I get looks of pity from girls on the north side, but I notice most of the Latina girls from the south side are whispering to each other and laughing. They’re gloating, happy that Marco dumped his rich north side girlfriend.

  I tell Kendall not to follow me as I turn and run out of the tent, not stopping until I reach my house twenty minutes later. I bolt upstairs and lock myself in my room, feeling like a complete fool.

  I pull out the pregnancy test from the zippered section of my purse and unwrap the stick. I let out a long, slow breath. This is it. The mom
ent of truth.

  I sneak off to the bathroom, glad the rest of my family is watching television in the family room.

  After I follow the instructions, I hold the stick in my hand and wait impatiently for the results to show up. As I stare at the little plastic window that will tell me my fate, three things Marco taught me today race through my mind: boys will lie to your face just to have sex with you, don’t trust any boy who says I love you, and never date a boy who lives on the south side of Fairfield.



  Two weeks after my showdown with the snake, I’m in a tuxedo at my brother’s wedding. I never thought I’d see Alex get married. Then again, I never thought I’d be back in Illinois again. This time, though, we’re at a rented house on Sheridan Road in Winnetka. It’s less than fifteen minutes from the south side of Fairfield where we used to live, but it feels like a whole other world.

  “¿Estás nervioso?” I ask Alex as I watch him attempt to adjust the bowtie so it sits straight.

  “Estoy bien, Luis. It’s just that this damn thing won’t go on right,” Alex growls, then slides the strip of fabric from under his crisp white collar and whips it on the ground before running his hand through his hair. He sighs heavily, then glances at me. “How the hell did you get yours to tie without lookin’ like a kid did it?”

  I pull out a piece of folded-up paper from the back pocket of my rented tuxedo pants, ignoring the pain from my still-raw hand. “I printed instructions off the Internet,” I tell him proudly as I hold out the piece of paper.

  “You’re such a geek, Luis,” our brother Carlos chimes in as he moves from the opposite side of the room and rips the instructions out of my hand.

  Carlos didn’t have to worry about renting a tuxedo because he’s wearing his dress uniform from the army. From the way he stands straight and tall when he wears it, I know he’s proud he’s in the service instead of being in the gang he was in when he lived in Mexico with me and Mamá.

  “Here,” Carlos says as he picks up the tie and shoves it and the instructions into Alex’s empty hand. “You don’t want to keep that bride of yours waitin’ at the altar. She might decide to ditch you and marry a white dude with an investment portfolio instead. ”

  “You tryin’ to piss me off?” Alex says, shoving Carlos away when he laughs at the clear plastic container with the red rose boutonniere packed neatly inside.

  Carlos nods. “Estoy tratando. I haven’t had a chance to give you shit since I was deployed nine months ago, Alex. No puedo parar. ”

  Just as I’m about to offer to tie Alex’s bowtie for him, miamá comes into the room.

  “What are you boys doing?” she asks, as if we’re still little kids messing around.

  “Arguin’,” Carlos says matter-of-factly.

  “There’s no time for that. ”

  Carlos kisses her on the cheek. “There’s always time for arguin’ when you’re a Fuentes. ”

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