Chain reaction, p.37
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       Chain Reaction, p.37

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 37


  “Stop talking stupid. ” I sit on the bed and take a long, hard look at him. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re gonna let me clean you up. After that, you can tell me to leave. ”

  “Didn’t you hear me? Unless you have pain meds, I don’t want you near me. ”

  “Too bad. ”

  Kendall and Derek help me wet some paper towels with hydrogen peroxide. I kneel in front of Luis and gently place one of the paper towels next to a cut by his eyebrow.

  “What happened to the boy who said he loved me?” I ask.

  “He died,” he says dryly.

  “I wanted to push you away,” I tell him. “It’s my defense mechanism. ”

  “Congratulations, Nikki,” he says. “You win. ”

  He jerks his head away from me, but I make him face me while I clean off his chin and a nasty cut on his cheek. When I move to clean the wound on his bicep, the angry letters gouged out of his skin that’ll leave permanent scars stare back at me.

  He holds my wrist with his strong fingers and stills my hand, which is about to wipe off blood still oozing from the wound. “Don’t help me,” he says. “I need you to go. ”

  “Why? We had a connection, Luis. I want to forget it but I can’t. ”

  His haunting eyes stare right through me. “Don’t lie to yourself and think what we had was any different than what you had with Marco. ”

  “I don’t believe that,” I say, shaking my head. “Maybe we don’t have a chance for a future, but I know from the bottom of my heart that what we have goes way deeper than anything I had with Marco. ”

  “You’re wrong. ” He grabs my fist tighter, stopping me from touching him. “Yo, Derek!” he yells.

  Derek sticks his head in the doorway. “Yeah?”

  “Get her out of here, before I do somethin’ stupid. ”

  Derek touches my shoulder. “Nik … you need to let him go. ”

  I swallow the basketball-sized lump in my throat. “I love you, Luis. ”

  Luis squeezes his eyes shut. “Derek … get her out!”

  I move away from him and take a deep breath. I can’t get through to him. He’s gone to the other side and left me behind.



  Less than an hour after Nikki and company leave my house, I get a surprise visit from Alex and Carlos. Word obviously spread to them that I got jumped in, because they don’t look surprised to see me all beat up.

  “Go take a shower,” Alex says, tossing me a towel. “You’re filthy. ”

  “Don’t take too long,” Carlos says, tapping me on the leg. “Because dinner’ll be ready in forty-five minutes. ”

  He picks up Granny, who hasn’t left my side.

  “I don’t want dinner,” I tell him. “And give me back my dog. ”

  “You’ll want to eat when you find out what I’m makin’. ”

  I look up at my half brothers. I expect them to give me shit, but they don’t. They’re just … here.

  “Your dog is depressed, just like you,” Carlos says as he sets Granny on the floor.

  I take a shower and let the hot water wash away the dried blood on my skin, but it won’t erase the fact that I’m a full-fledged Latino Blood. Or the fact that I pushed Nikki away for good, which hurt way more than Chuy gouging the letters LB into my skin with the screwdriver.

  I’ve lost her. It’s a good thing, though. I’d just end up disappointing her, and I don’t want to hurt her more than I already have.

  When I step out of the bathroom, my brothers are sitting at the kitchen table. They’re talking quietly, obviously discussing how they’re going to deal with me. When I don’t join them, they bring their plates to my room and lean against the wall while they chow down. The smell of beef and spices makes my mouth water, but I don’t want to face them right now … or eat with them.

  “What are you two doin’?” I ask.

  Alex and Carlos look at eat other and shrug. “Eatin’, bro,” Alex says. “What does it look like we’re doin’?”

  I point to my bedroom door. “We have a kitchen, you know. Go eat in there. ”

  “I’m cool,” Carlos says. “What about you, Alex?”

  Alex takes a forkful of carne guisada, which they both know is my favorite. “I’m cool, too,” he says as he makes a big deal out of shoving the food in his mouth and moaning in pleasure as if he’s in carne guisada heaven.

  After dinner, Carlos lies down on a spare mattress on the floor in my room. “Aren’t you stayin’ at the hotel with Kiara?” I ask him.

  “Not tonight. Or tomorrow. You fucked that plan up. ”

  “Don’t blame me,” I tell him. “Go to the hotel. I want you to. ”

  When I get my aching bones up to go to the bathroom, I notice Alex has camped out on the living room couch. “Go home to your wife and kid,” I tell him.

  “I’m stayin’ here for the week. Miamá is stayin’ with Brit and Paco, in case you were wonderin’. ”

  “I don’t need you and Carlos babysittin’ me. I’m fine. ”

  Once I get a bunch of Tylenol in me, I’ll be fine.

  He laughs as he scans my appearance. “Yeah, right. You look fine, bro. Go to bed and let your body start to repair itself. ”

  “When’s the lecture comin’?” I ask. I’m not stupid enough to think I’m off the hook from Alex and Carlos giving me shit.

  “I’m not gonna lecture you,” Alex says.

  “I’m not, either,” Carlos says.

  “You do realize I’m an LB, right?” I say just to make sure we’re all on the same page. “I didn’t get mugged today … I got jumped in. ”

  “Statin’ the obvious, bro,” Carlos says in a bored tone.

  Alex picks up the remote and watches television. They’re pretending like they don’t care one bit that I’m part of the Latino Blood, but I’m not an idiot. They’re playing me. But why?

  “So you guys are cool with it?” I ask.

  “I wouldn’t go that far,” Alex says. “But we get it. ”

  “And we’re gonna give you time to get out of it,” Carlos says.

  I hold my bruised ribs as I limp back to my room. “Come on, Granny,” I say. My dog bumps her head into the wall and I want to tell her I feel her pain—literally.

  “Oh, and by the way,” Alex yells from the living room. “Enrique is givin’ you a week off work. ”

  I slowly lower myself onto my bed, trying to ignore every ache. I couldn’t work even if I wanted to.

  “Oh, one more thing,” Alex calls out. “Your chemistry teacher is comin’ to tutor you this week while you heal. You go to school lookin’ like that and Aguirre’ll call the cops. ”

  “Please tell me you’re jokin’ about Peterson comin’ here. ”

  “No joke, bro. She’s really lookin’ forward to it,” Alex says.



  Luis hasn’t been back to school all week. I called Brittany, who told me that Alex and Carlos have been taking care of him. Alex says he’s healing fast. Kendall, Derek, and Hunter invited me to play golf at Brickstone. I don’t want to go, but I need to get my mind off of Luis.

  I can’t say how many times I’ve been tempted to go over to Luis’s house. Six times I got in my car and started driving, but I always stopped myself before I crossed the railroad tracks to the south side.

  “I’m glad you came,” Hunter says as I set my golf clubs in the golf cart.

  I give him a small smile. “Me too. ”

  “Me three,” Derek says, then nudges Kendall.

  “Me four,” she says, although she’s less enthusiastic.

  On the eighth hole, while Derek is coaching Kendall on how to do a chip shot to get her ball out of the sand trap, Hunter sits next to me in the golf cart. “Go to my homecoming with me,” he says.

  “Was that a question or a statement?” I ask him.

  “Considering I don’t want you to even con
template saying no, I’d say it was a statement. ” He puts his arm around me. “You know I’ve always wanted to date you. ”

  “Liar. You’ve wanted to add me to your trophy shelf. ”

  “True. So how about it?”

  I glance down at his green custom golf shoes with shiny gold designs on the tops. His initials are engraved in the gold. Luis wouldn’t be caught dead in them. “I can’t go to homecoming with you, Hunter. ”

  “Is it because of my shoes?”

  “No. It’s because I’m in love with someone else. ”

  “Does he know about it?”

  “Yes. But he doesn’t believe me. ”

  When Marco and I broke up, and I saw him with Mariana, I didn’t fight for him. I gave up and let the LB win. With Luis it’s different. I realized that I’m not giving up on us, and I’m going to fight to get him back. I love him deeper than just my heart … I love him to the inner parts of my soul as if he’s a part of me.

  It’s about time he knows it.



  While Alex is out and Carlos is watching television, I sneak out my bedroom window with my backpack and head to the bank with the key to the safety-deposit box. I’m sure it’s too much to hope I’ll be back before they realize I’m gone. I have to know what’s in the bank, so I can decide what to do. I sneak through back alleys to make sure I’m not followed.

  At the bank, I give them my ID and sign a slip of paper declaring that I’m the owner of the box. Afterward, I’m directed to a locked vault. The bank employees leave me in the vault alone while I open the box and examine the contents.

  Stacks of hundred-dollar bills stare back at me. I bet there’s at least ten or fifteen thousand dollars here. My heart starts racing. I don’t look up for fear there’s a video camera watching my every move. Seeing this much money makes me nervous. What was it supposed to be used for? Why did Hector put my name on the box in the first place? I don’t know if I’ll ever get the answers.

  There’s also a piece of paper with a bunch of numbers on it and below them the letters CODEOFSILENCE—all caps, no spaces.

  Under the money is another piece of paper, embossed and stamped as original—my birth certificate.

  Luis Salvatore Martinez Fuentes.

  I stare at the two last names … miamá acknowledged Hector as my father on my birth certificate. She gave me his last name, but never told me. On the bottom of the certificate, where it says father, Hector Martinez is listed—and the bastard signed the document.

  Despite everything, I don’t feel like a Martinez. It’s not a part of me, and I won’t adopt it as my own.

  I jot the numbers down on my palm with a pen, fold the birth certificate into my pocket, then put the box back in its slot. Since I laid my eyes on the cash, I’ve been trying to convince myself to take it—it’s mine, isn’t it? Miamá needs it, Alex needs it … it could help Carlos and Kiara start their lives together.

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