Chain reaction, p.6
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       Chain Reaction, p.6
 

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 6

  I’ve already danced with all of my female cousins at least twice. And Brittany’s single friends who didn’t bring a date. One girl was seriously on the prowl and grabbed my ass a few times while we were dancing. I think she’s one of Brittany’s sorority sisters. She has no clue I’m fifteen, because she asked me what frat I was in.

  I look over at Nikki Cruz, the one person who’s not having fun.

  She’s sitting at one of the tables by herself. I swear the chick looks like she’d be happier taking a final exam than being at this wedding.

  I head over to her. “You might want to think of smilin’ at some point tonight,” I tell her. “It’s a weddin’, you know. ”

  She looks up at me with big eyes that I swear are made of brown silk. It’s dark out, but the lights make her eyes shine.

  “Smiling is overrated,” she says.

  “How would you know if you haven’t tried it?” I take the chair next to her and straddle it. “Come on, I dare you. ”

  “Go away. ”

  She’s bitter, and trying her hardest to have a shitty time tonight.

  I fold my arms on the back of the chair. “Did you know smilin’ reduces the level of stress hormones in your body like epinephrine and dopamine? Seriously, even a fake smile’ll help. Try it. ”

  She ignores me, so I cup my hands over my mouth and do something I haven’t done in years—barnyard sounds. I start with my imitation of a sheep and end with an impressive moo. Girls used to eat it up when I did them back in fifth grade. They’d hang around me for entertainment, which is just what I wanted at the time. Guys who didn’t have any entertainment value were ignored. I was a kid who refused to be ignored.

  I still refuse to be ignored.

  I look at Nikki while I’m doing the sounds, but I get zero reaction from her. Nada.

  Until she scans me up and down like I’m a creature from another planet. “Are you for real?”

  “As real as they come, mi chava. ” I stand and hold out my hand. “Dance with me. ”

  She eyes my scabs and winces. “What happened to your hand?”

  “Long story involving me and a snake. The snake won. ”

  She obviously doesn’t believe me. “Why don’t you dance with that girl over there?” she says, pointing to this girl I was introduced to named Yvette. She’s one of Brittany’s aunts’ cousin’s kids or something like that. She’s got dyed blond hair and a fake tan. Brittany said she’s on the swim team at school, and last year won state in the two-hundred-yard freestyle. Great body, but not my type.

  “You want me to dance with someone besides you?”

  “Yes,” she says, sticking her cute nose in the air like a princess.

  I shrug. “Suit yourself. ”

  Whatever. If that’s the way she wants it, she can sit here and be miserable. I look at the dance floor. My three-hundred-pound aunt Rosalita is waving me over. Last time I danced with her, she stepped on my foot and almost crushed my bones.

  Just as I’m about to leave Nikki alone to drown in her own misery, Alex pats me on my shoulder. Standing next to him is Dr. Cruz, Nikki’s father.

  “Alex tells me you’ll be applying to Purdue to study aeronautics engineering after graduating high school,” Dr. Cruz says to me with the slightest hint of an accent.

  I stand. “That’s the plan, sir. ”

  “Good for you. I really respect that you’re following in your brothers’ footsteps and working hard. ”

  “I respect that, too,” the woman standing behind him says. Nikki’s mom, obviously. “It’s admirable. Boys who have drive and ambition will definitely go far in life. ”

  I think I hear Nikki snort when I get her parental approval.

  Dr. Cruz pats Nikki on the top of the head. “I see you’ve met my daughter, Nikki. ”

  “Definitely. I asked her to dance, but—”

  Dr. Cruz practically drags his daughter off the chair. “Dance with Luis. ”

  “I don’t feel good,” she mumbles.

  “Come on, sweetheart. At least pretend to have fun. ”

  “I don’t want to have fun or pretend to have fun, Dad. ”

  “Don’t be rude,” her mother scolds, then urges her toward me. “Dance with the boy. ”

  I hold out my elbow for Nikki to take, but she struts her hot little Latina body to the dance floor without waiting for me.

  “Good luck,” Dr. Cruz calls out to me.

  A fast song is playing, and Nikki starts dancing with a bunch of people randomly. I watch her as she pretends to loosen up. I know she’s faking it because she’s not really smiling … she’s not frowning, either. She’s just … here.

  I try and dance close to her, watching as her body moves to the music. She’s not a good dancer … she’s downright awful. She doesn’t seem to notice she looks ridiculous as she jerks her body like a robot around the dance floor. She won’t even look at me. In fact, she’s busy moving from group to group so nobody can claim her as their partner.

  Until a slow song comes on.

  Nikki stops abruptly. I reach out for her waist and gently urge her toward me. We’re face-to-face now. She looks up at me with long eyelashes that almost touch her eyebrows and eyes that I could melt into if she’d let me. There’s no mistaking the electricity pulsing through the air between us. If we got together, it would be explosive … in a really good way. She’s intimidating, which is sexy as all hell. I don’t get intimidated easily.

  “Hola, corazón,” I say, and wiggle my eyebrows at her.

  I expect her to smile.

  Or laugh.

  I don’t expect her to knee me in the nuts and say “Fuck you. ”

  Which is exactly what Nikki Cruz does.

  8

  Nikki

  I didn’t mean to knee Luis in the nuts.

  Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I meant to knee him where it counts. I just didn’t mean to do it hard—in front of everyone, including the bride and groom. And my parents. And his mother. And everyone else who happened to be on the dance floor at the time.

  While Luis grabs his crotch and winces in pain, I walk away and head for the women’s restroom. Sprint is more like it. Maybe if I distance myself quickly, nobody will know that Dr. Cruz’s daughter is a complete mess. Fat chance, I know.

  I lock myself in a stall, content to stay here forever if it means I don’t have to face the rest of the world for a while. After about five minutes of pretending that I don’t exist and wishing I were a fictional character in one of Ben’s stupid video games, I think the coast is clear … until I hear the click of a woman’s shoes and a knock on my stall door.

  Knock, knock, knock. “Nikki, it’s your mother,” she says, her knuckles rapping on the door. “Open up. ”

  “What if I don’t want to?”

  Her response is more knocking.

  I open the door slowly. “Hi,” I say, forcing a smile.

  “Don’t Hi me, young lady. You completely embarrassed me and your father out there. ”

  “Sorry,” I say dumbly.

  “I’m not the one who needs an apology. What in God’s name came over you, Nikki?”

  “Nothing. ” If I told her, then she’d know about my secret. I can’t tell her; not now when I’m trying to figure out what to do. “I just … it was an accident. ”

  “An accident?” Mom asks, not convinced in the least. She takes a deep breath. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but hurting people and embarrassing yourself and your family isn’t the answer. ”

  I know that. But I couldn’t stand there while Luis’s strong hands wrapped around my waist. I wanted to lay my head on his chest and pretend he was my knight in shining armor willing to avenge my honor. But that was a fantasy. When he spoke to me in Spanish, it reminded me too much of Marco and the biggest mistake of my life. I have no knight, no honor.

  “I suppose you want me to apologize. ”

  She nods. “Yes, I do. S
ooner rather than later. ”

  I watch as Mom walks out of the room, leaving me alone. It’s her way of making the apology my own decision, as if she’s not forcing me to do it. I close the door again and lean my head back against the stall door.

  I know I’m being irrational. All Mexican boys aren’t like Marco, just like all Mexican American girls aren’t like me. Actually, most Mexican girls I know speak Spanish and have at least a few other Mexican neighbors. I don’t. Maybe I judged Luis harshly, but then again, I probably pegged him perfectly.

  I hear the door open and the tap-tap-tap of more heeled shoes on the bathroom floor.

  “Omigod, I can’t believe that girl who danced like a freak kicked Luis and left him on the dance floor!” I hear one of the girls say.

  I didn’t kick him. I used my knee, but I’m not about to clear up her little mistake. Not now, at least.

  “Did you get a glimpse of his lips?” the other girl says. “Yum. ”

  I roll my eyes.

  “I know, right? I told him I’d help heal his wounds. I’m meeting him over by the pier in five minutes. I’ll bring back a report on how kissable his lips really are. ”

  There’s a pause, so I peek through the little space between the door and stall. The Omigod girl is pushing up her boobs to make her cleavage pop out of her dress like butt cheeks. She turns to her friend. “How do I look?”

  I take that as my cue to come out of the stall and show myself. As soon as they realize they aren’t alone, they look at me, then at each other. I pretend to fix my hair and makeup in the big mirror right next to them.

  I decide to give them my two cents. Not because they asked for it, but because they need it.

  “Beware of guys who look like Luis,” I say. “Guys like that will use you, then leave you when someone else comes along. ”

  Omigod girl puts her hand on her hip and looks me up and down. “What makes you think I actually care?”

  “I’m just trying to help. You know, girl bonding and all that. ”

  “Girl bonding?” the girl says in a mocking tone. “I don’t bond with girls who dance like they’re having a seizure. And I don’t hate guys, like you obviously do. ”

  Her friend is laughing now. Omigod girl joins her. They’re laughing at me, just like the girls were at Malnatti’s the night I saw Marco kissing Mariana Castillo. I shouldn’t care, but I do.

  I walk out of the bathroom, leaving Omigod girl and her friend to gossip on their own.

  I don’t hate guys. I’m just … cautious.

  My mom stops me as I pass her. “Did you apologize to Luis yet?” she asks.

  I shake my head. “I was just about to,” I say quickly, then attempt a fake search for Luis.

  I wander up and down the beach, taking my time heading back to the party. The lick of the waves against the shore and the fresh smell of the air brings me back to the day I told Marco I loved him …

  The night I found out I was pregnant.

  I’d do anything not to see the disappointment and horror on my parents’ faces when they learn that their fifteen-year-old daughter got knocked up by the ex-boyfriend they’d never liked. At some point I need to tell them the truth: that I took a pregnancy test and it came out positive, but just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

 
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