Chain reaction, p.35
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       Chain Reaction, p.35

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 35


  “Isn’t he?” I say again.

  “Sí, Luis,” Alex says, defeated. “Hector Martinez was your father. ”

  Brittany puts a comforting hand on my shoulder, but I shrug it off.

  “Does Carlos know, or am I not only the black sheep of the family, but also the last to know who my own fuckin’ father is. ”

  Alex doesn’t want to tell me. He’d rather keep me ignorant and innocent, but that’s all in the past. I’m not a kid anymore. Far from it.

  “Tell me!” I scream at him. My entire body is tense and I suppress a vicious rage that’s bubbling inside me.

  “Calm down. ”

  “Don’t tell me to calm down. Don’t say another word to me except the absolute truth. ”

  “Okay. ” Alex brushes his fingers through his hair. “He suspects. He brought it up once about ten years ago, and I shut him down. I told him never to bring it up again, and he hasn’t. ”

  “Well, hooray for Fuentes family secrets. ” It feels like I’ve got a lump the size of a basketball in my throat as I ask, “Did he rape our mother? Am I the result of a rape?”

  “No. ”

  “She cheated?”

  “Not exactly. Why don’t I take you home and you can ask her yourself. ”

  “I don’t have a home, Alex. ”

  “Don’t be stupid, Luis. Your home is wherever your family is. Mamá did things she thought would keep us safe. ”

  “So she whored herself out. Nice. ”

  Alex pushes me, his eyes blazing mad. “Don’t talk about miamá like that. She did what needed to be done, period. Don’t judge her when you don’t know what went down. ”

  All this time I’ve been so stupid. The evidence was right in front of my face and I never even put the pieces together. I had this ridiculous delusion that I was the golden child, because I was in my mother’s stomach when my supposed father was shot and killed—the last gift my father gave her was me.

  But in reality I’ve never been the golden child. I’ve been the black sheep … I’ve called myself a Fuentes and I never was one.

  I step back. “Adios, bro. ”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “It means I’m out. For good. ”

  “You’re not goin’ anywhere. ”

  “You have no hold over me, Alex. Hell, we don’t even share the same father. ” I think of all the times I felt bad for Carlos because he seemed the odd one out. He didn’t have the brains or even temper that Alex and I were born with.

  Joke’s on me. I don’t even have the same blood.

  “You think your DNA matters?” he asks. “It doesn’t. You were my brother as soon as you came out of Mamá’s stomach and I held you when you were less than an hour old. You were my brother when Mamá worked and I wiped your ass and changed your diapers. And you’ll be my brother until I take my last breath! ¿Comprende?”

  “You denied me my history … my heritage!”

  “I denied you nothing, Luis. Your biological father was …” He hesitates.

  “Go ahead and say it. Come on, Alex, don’t hold back now. ”

  “Hector Martinez was a manipulative asshole who threatened people with their lives so they did what he wanted. He was a murderer and drug lord. We did you a favor by not tellin’ you that half your genes were from a man without scruples or a conscience. ”

  “You better be careful, Alex. ” I push him back, ready for a brawl. “That’s my blood you’re talkin’ about. ”

  My words must sting, because Alex pounds his chest. “Wake up, Luis. You’re lookin’ at your blood. I’m your blood. ”

  I regard him with disgust. “All I see in front of me is an ex–Latino Blood. A traitor to my people. ”

  “That’s bullshit. ”

  “Watch your back, bro. You never know who’s family … and who’s the enemy. ”

  I storm away from him, blocking out Alex’s demands to come back, mixed with Brittany’s pleas not to leave. She says we can work it out.

  I’m done working things out.

  Chuy was right. Being a Latino Blood is my destiny, my birthright. I told myself I wanted to get close to Chuy to gain insider info about the LB. I was lying to myself. All along I wanted to be in it, be a part of the drug deals and danger. I walk into the LB warehouse with one thing on my mind—living up to my father’s legacy.

  Chuy is sitting in his makeshift office talking to some OGs. One look at me and Chuy sends everyone else out of the room—except a guy named Tiny, who isn’t tiny.

  “I’ll go to the bank and see what’s in the safety-deposit box,” I say. “But I’ve got conditions. ”

  His ever-present cigar is hanging from his mouth. He takes it out and blows smoke in the air. I watch as it lingers above his head before disappearing into the smoke-filled room. “Conditions?”

  “Sí. First, you never threaten Alex’s family, Carlos, or miamá again. Second, you initiate me like everyone else. ” No more straddling the line. I’ve chosen my side, and I don’t want anyone mistaking me for something that I’m not and was never intended to be.

  “Glad you’ve come around, Fuentes. ”

  “Don’t call me that,” I say roughly. “I’m not a Fuentes and you know it, so stop the bullshit. You agree to my terms or not?”

  We stare each other down. “Sure. Hector predicted you’d be a fighter,” he says proudly, reminding me of the picture of Hector holding me when I was a newborn. He nods to Tiny to get the other OGs back in the room. “Luis here wants to solidify his place in the LB family, boys,” he calls out as they pile back in. “Problem is, Luis, you’ve already been blessed in. No need for an initiation. ”

  “I want it. Jump me in like a new recruit. ”

  He laughs. “What, you want us to kick the shit outta you?”

  “I want to be initiated like Alex. I’m not takin’ the easy way out. I can handle it. ” I’ll show them I don’t need to be protected from the truth. I can just hear Hector Martinez from the grave egging me on, challenging me to prove to all these guys that I’m as tough as he was.

  He cocks an eyebrow. “You can handle it, huh?”

  “I’m my father’s son,” I say stoically. “Bring it. ”

  “Mi placer,” he says, amused. “Yo, Rico!” he yells. “Round up some others and give Luis here a Latino Blood thirteen-second welcome. I’m gonna join in, too. ” He cracks his knuckles one by one. “I’m gonna enjoy this. ”



  Kendall thinks I’m a survivor, but right now I don’t feel like one. All I feel like doing is going over to Luis’s house so he can hold me and tell me everything is okay between us.

  I’m dreaming. It’s not okay between us and never will be.

  “Dad,” I say, sitting down with him as he watches a soccer match on television. “How come you and Mom never took us to Mexico?”

  He shrugs. “We travel a lot, Nikki. You went to Brazil with us two years ago. And Argentina when I spoke at the conference there. You practically gobbled up all the gelato in Italy. ”

  “But why not Mexico?”

  He blows out a long, slow breath. “I guess if we went, I’d feel like I had to show you where I grew up. I don’t want to look back, Nikki. Your mother doesn’t want to, either. ”

  “A lot of the Mexican kids at school have parents who don’t even speak English. ”

  “On the south side,” he says.

  “Yeah. ”

  “We’re trying to raise you and your brother to not have the we/them mentality, and the resentment between the haves and have-nots, which I’m afraid is rampant on the south side. Your mother and I discussed it a lot before you were born. ”

  “It’s like we’re white. I don’t eat Mexican food and none of the kids I grew up with were Mexican. ”

  “We’re not trying to be white, Nikki. We assimilated. Is that so horrible?”

  “I feel like in the process of wanting to
fit in so bad, you and Mom have neglected to make us proud of our heritage. I love being American. But when I look at the kids on the south side … like the Fuentes family … I’m jealous. ”

  “What’s there to be jealous about, honey? You have everything you need, and most things you want. We’re living the American dream. I know the mentality of most Mexican families on the south side of Fairfield: work like a dog, send money to relatives back in Mexico, and don’t have high expectations because they’ll never be met. Most Mexican kids on the south side of Fairfield aren’t expected to go to college. After high school they’re expected to help their parents provide for the family, and protect what they call the ’hood. That’s not our mentality. ”

  “I know. ” I want to tell him what’s been nagging me for the past two months, ever since I was with Luis on Derek’s boat. “I want you to tell me about your childhood, Dad. Not now, but when you and Mom are ready. It’s really important to me. Being Mexican is important to me. ”

  “Does this have anything to do with you spending so much time with Luis?”

  “Maybe. We broke up, and I miss his family and being surrounded by people who showed off being Mexican like it was a badge of honor. I know it’s stupid, but I really liked that. ” I also miss Luis so much, I ache for him and have cried myself to sleep every night since his birthday.

  “If you want to go to Mexico, I’ll talk to your mother. We have no plans this summer, with you going to college in the fall. ” He pats my knee. “I think you’re right. We need to look back sometimes and realize the past taught us to appreciate our future. ”

  It’s true. I need to go back to my own past, so I can heal and look forward to the future. Marco is the key.

  I leave the room and walk outside to call Marco. When he doesn’t answer, I text him.

  Me: can we talk?

  Marco: Can’t. I’m helping Luis get jumped in



  Chuy is standing in front of me, in the middle of a circle of about fifteen guys. My cousin Enrique isn’t here, but Marco is. And a couple of other guys from school. He’s also rounded up some of the guys who were around when Alex was in the Blood.

  “Here’s what’s gonna happen, Luis,” Chuy explains. “Mis vatos and I are gonna take you in the back room and kick the shit out of you for thirteen seconds. When it’s over, you’re in. ”

  “Can I fight back?” I ask.

  “No. If you even attempt to, our punches will be harder,” he says, not missing a beat. “This is to break you down before we build you back up bigger, stronger, and tougher. Like a stallion, ese. When we’re done, you’re a Latino Blood. ”

  “Let’s get it over with. ”

  “Damn, you are like Hector. That crazy motherfucker was as impatient as you are,” Chuy says.

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