Chain reaction, p.7
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       Chain Reaction, p.7
 

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 7

 

  While the party is still going strong into the night, I sit on a rock far down the beach and look out at the seemingly endless expanse of water. I sit for a long time, listening to the faint music coming from the wedding. Every now and then I get a stomach cramp that hurts like crazy, but it slowly eases as I breathe in and out with smooth, controlled breaths.

  Enough sulking, Nikki. Get up and move on … literally and figuratively, a voice inside my head instructs.

  I stand up and head back to the party. As I’m walking and thinking about how I’m going to gather up the nerve to apologize to Luis, then go home and have the dreaded talk with my parents, I trip on something soft. I look down and realize I just tripped on clothes. Guy clothes … namely a tuxedo.

  I look around and see two silhouettes kissing in the water.

  Luis and Omigod girl. Her annoying squeal echoes through the air. I can tell she’s with Luis because … well, every time I glanced at him tonight, his image was etched in my brain. Even in shadow, I instinctively know it’s him.

  I can’t believe he can fool around with Omigod girl knowing that she’s just a one-night stand. I realize I’m angry with Marco and transferring my emotions onto Luis, but they’re too similar.

  Evil thoughts are running through my mind, like snatching his tuxedo so he’s left without clothes. I shouldn’t do it.

  But then again …

  Without really thinking it through for fear I’ll lose my nerve, I snatch up Luis’s tuxedo jacket, shirt, pants, boxers, and shoes. I take Luis’s wallet from his pocket and leave it in the sand. No use in having him think I stole his wallet, after all.

  I toss the clothes behind a rock and head back to the reception area. I wish I could see his face when he has to search, all naked, for his clothes. I left them where he can easily find them … in the light of day. He’s gonna have to work for it in the moonlight.

  Yes! For the first time in weeks, I feel empowered.

  “Yo, Nik,” Ben says. “Mom and Dad have been looking for you. We’re about to leave. ”

  Mom and Dad say their good-byes to practically everyone at the wedding. I stand behind them and add my polite thanks to theirs, without a hint that I’ve just stashed Luis’s tux where he might not find it.

  “What were you doing on the beach?” Ben asks me as I get into Dad’s car.

  “Apologizing to Luis,” I lie. Obviously I didn’t do that much damage to his lower region if he was fooling around an hour later.

  Dad pulls out of the parking lot, down the winding driveway, past the house where the wedding was held, and then onto the small road leading away from a neighboring hotel the guests are probably staying at tonight. Ben, sitting beside me, is busy playing with some app on his phone.

  Looking out the window, I see a naked Luis holding his wallet over his crotch while trying to sneak into the hotel. He freezes when we pass, probably hoping to avoid being noticed.

  But I notice him.

  And he notices me.

  With a genuine smile that hasn’t crossed my face in forever, I roll down my window and give him a small private wave.

  Instead of being embarrassed, he drops the wallet and salutes me with one hand and waves back to me with the other.

  Which means he’s fully exposed.

  Don’t look at anything but his face, Nikki. Whatever you do, don’t give him the satisfaction of scanning down.

  In the end, Luis Fuentes gets the best of me. I couldn’t help but look. His body is leaner and more ripped than Marco’s, and seeing him in all his glory definitely showcases their differences.

  “I’m glad you apologized to Luis,” Mom chimes in quietly when we’re almost home.

  “Yep,” I tell her.

  Any tiny ounce of glee I might have fades as my stomach clenches again. And again. I feel like I’m going to throw up. A dizziness washes over me, and I close my eyes until Dad pulls into our driveway.

  Mom turns around and frowns when we’re home. “Don’t embarrass us like that again. You’re not trash, so don’t act like it. ”

  I grab the handle and ease myself out of the car. A sharp pain in my side makes me wince. “I know,” I manage to say through clenched teeth.

  “You know how to act like a lady,” Mom says.

  I just need to throw up, then I’ll be fine. Ben has already booked it into the house. I can’t talk because I’m afraid I’ll lose the entire contents of my stomach right here.

  Mom sighs in frustration. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, young lady. ”

  “Sorry, Mom,” I force myself to say. “I’m just … not feeling good. ”

  I walk upstairs, but I stop when my stomach clenches and I keel over in pain. I suck in a breath, not being able to stand it. It feels like something is cutting me open from the inside.

  “You okay?” Mom asks as she comes up behind me. “What’s wrong, Nikki?”

  “I don’t know. ” I look at her and know I can’t lie any longer. Especially when I feel a trickle of wetness running down my inner thigh. My heart is racing and I’m feeling faint. Another shot of pain runs right through me.

  My knees buckle, and I curl up in the fetal position at the top of the stars because it hurts so bad.

  “Raul!” my mom screams.

  My dad is kneeling at my side in an instant. “Nikki, where’s the pain?” he asks just like a doctor would, but with a hint of panic behind his words. He’s a surgeon, but I bet he’s not prepared for this.

  I can’t delay the truth any longer.

  I don’t look into either of their faces as I cry in a soft whisper, “I’m pregnant … and I think something’s really wrong. ”

  Now I can see blood trickling down my leg.

  Mom gasps, then holds on to the railing for support.

  My dad stares at me with eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He’s completely stunned for a second, as if time has stopped, but quickly snaps out of it as reality sets in. “All right. Let’s get you to the hospital,” he says, not in a panic but like a doctor with a purpose. He picks me up and carries me down the stairs while Mom calls our neighbor and asks her to come over to stay with Ben.

  My parents help me get in the front seat while the pain increases with every second that passes. In the car on the way to the hospital, I glance at my dad. I’ve never seen him look this worried or sad. When I started hanging out with Marco almost daily, he warned me to stay away from him. That boy is nothing but trouble, he’d said one day when he came home to find us making out in the pool in our backyard. I don’t want you hanging around with him. He’ll get you into trouble. Mom agreed with him.

  I thought they were judging Marco just because he lived on the south side. I was wrong.

  I look over at my dad. He’s got a death grip on the steering wheel, and he’s focused on the road.

  “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” I say over and over as the pain gets sharper and sharper.

  He sighs heavily. “I know. ”

  “Do you hate me?” I hold my breath, waiting for the answer.

  “I’m disappointed in you, Nicolasa,” he says, calling me by my formal name he never uses unless he’s really upset. He doesn’t say anything more than that.

  “No matter what, we love you,” Mom says encouragingly from the backseat. “How did this happen? When? Where? We don’t condone—”

  “Maria, not now,” Dad tells her.

  Mom stops her questions, but they linger in the air between us.

  At the hospital, Dad makes sure I get admitted immediately. They do all these blood tests, and the specialist, Dr. Helene Wong, orders an ultrasound. I’m trying to hold in my tears, but it’s no use. After the ultrasound, Mom holds my hand. She doesn’t say much. I think she’s too scared and shocked to say anything, so she lets Dad and the other doctors do all the talking.

  After Dr. Wong orders a second ultrasound and I’m put on an IV, Mom sits on one s
ide of my hospital bed and Dad sits on the other. The doctor is standing next to them with my test results in her hand.

  “You have an ectopic pregnancy,” she says, then explains why I need to have emergency surgery because they suspect my fallopian tube has started to rupture. Mom has her hand over her mouth as tears fall down her cheeks. Dad nods stiffly as he listens to Dr. Wong.

  “What’s going to happen to my baby?” I ask in a panic.

  Dr. Wong touches my shoulder. “There’s no way to save the baby,” she explains.

  I start crying again. The second I realized that I was really and truly pregnant, I’d hoped that the pregnancy wasn’t real. Did my negative thoughts make my body reject the baby? Deep sorrow and a mountain of guilt that I know I’ll carry around forever settle in my gut.

  Another wave of pain hits, and I grab my stomach.

  As my parents sign the waivers, the reality of what’s happening is making me shake.

  “Will I still be able to have kids in the future?” I ask Dr. Wong before she leaves the room to prep for the surgery.

  She nods. “One tube will be damaged, but your other one is healthy. You should be able to conceive without too much trouble. ”

  After the IV is in, and they’re ready to wheel me into surgery, I look over at my parents. I want to say something to them, but I know if I do I’ll burst into sobs.

  Mom gives me a small, tight smile. She’s disappointed in me. I don’t blame her.

  Dad holds my hand until I’m wheeled into surgery. “We’ll be right here waiting until you come out. ”

  The operating room is cold and smells like canned air. I’m being hooked up to monitors and Dr. Wong tells me I’m going to be feeling sleepy as they put something in my IV. As I fall into a deep slumber, I vow to forget about Marco and forget about our baby who never had a chance.

  Luis Fuentes reminded me that I’m still vulnerable. If I’m emotionally unavailable, then I don’t have to worry about ever getting hurt. When this nightmare is over, I’m going to be a different person … Nikki Cruz will no longer be vulnerable.

  9

  Luis

  TWO YEARS AND TWO MONTHS LATER

  Fairfield, Illinois.

  If you would’ve told me two weeks ago I’d be moving back to Illinois after fleeing this place when I was eleven, I’d have laughed. In all that time I came back to Illinois once, for my brother’s wedding more than two years ago.

  Now I’m seventeen and back for good.

  I’m about to start my senior year. I know every teacher, every student, and every inch of Flatiron High in Colorado, where I went for the past three years of high school. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have come back to Fairfield. But I’m Mexican, and my culture is all about loyalty to family.

  Duty to family brought us back. Alex and Brittany are living here with my little nephew, Paco. We saw them last night, as soon as we arrived. Brittany’s pregnant again, and miamá says she’s not going to miss out on watching her grandchildren grow up.

  We’re standing in front of the old house we used to rent. It’s a two-bedroom house, bigger than a shack but smaller than most homes on my block. It’s clear that the Latino Blood don’t have as big a presence in Fairfield anymore. The spray-painted tagging of buildings and street signs is gone, and nobody is looking at cars driving down the street as if they might be rival gang members about to do a drive-by. The presence of a police car parked in the street makes me question my initial observations, though.

 
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