Chain Reaction (Perfect Chemistry #3)

Chapter 10

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“Chuy got busted a while back. Most of the OGs got sent to the DOC,” Delgado explains.

The DOC—otherwise known as the Department of Corrections.

“I heard.”

Chuy used to be second in command. Once Chuy went down, the rest of the OGs went down with him. My cousin Enrique almost served time, but Alex helped him get a good lawyer who got the case against him dismissed.

“You think Alex had somethin’ to do with the bust?”

Alex, responsible for bringing down the Latino Blood? I don’t think so. “My brother isn’t a narc,” I say. Fuentes pride runs deep, and I’ll do anything to protect my brothers and my family name. “¿Comprende?”

Marco nods. “I’ve got no problem with him. It’s all good, man.”

Mariana Castillo, the girl every guy had a crush on in second grade, sits with us. A bunch of girls follow her lead. Mariana was always the leader of the girls … whatever she did, the other girls followed. She’s got a flawless complexion, long legs, thick lips, and a gleam in her eyes that reveals a raw and ruthless spirit.

“Well, well. I guess the rumors are true,” she tells me. “Luis Fuentes has definitely grown up.”

Marco laughs. “I think you’ve got yourself a fan club, Luis.”

“You should come out with all of us on Saturday night,” Mariana says.

“I’ve got to work,” I tell her.

“That sucks. What if we—”

A blaring voice over the loudspeakers scattered throughout the courtyard cuts her off. “Luis Fuentes, please report to Principal Aguirre’s office immediately. Luis Fuentes, report to Principal Aguirre’s office immediately,” the voice bellows again just in case for some miraculous reason I hadn’t heard the first time.

Marco lets out a low whistle. “In trouble with Aguirre on the first day of school, Fuentes?” he asks, amused. “He’s probably been alerted that we were friends back in grade school. Got in our share of trouble, didn’t we?”

“Sure did.” Marco and I had been in the same homeroom and sat next to each other for practically every class. I always earned good grades, but Marco could always convince me to be his partner in crime.

“Did you get called in, too?” I ask him.

“First thing this mornin’. Aguirre’s a hard-ass and will try to scare you into playin’ by his rules. He’ll try to get you to talk, but keep your mouth shut. It’ll totally piss him off. It’s hilarious watchin’ his face get all red.”

“I bet it has to do with that fight with Dougan in the locker room,” Pedro chimes in.

“Good luck,” Mariana says.

“Thanks,” I say, hoping that I don’t need it.

I find the front office a few minutes later. An old woman behind the front desk looks frazzled as students stand around impatiently requesting class schedule changes or signing up for appointments with the guidance counselor.

I figure I’ll wait in line instead of announcing my arrival. I’m not looking forward to facing Aguirre. Marco isn’t the only one who declared him a hard-ass. My brothers warned me that their old principal didn’t take any prisoners.

The door opens to Aguirre’s office and a tall guy wearing a suit and tie appears. “Fuentes!” he yells above the noise. He scans the room until his eyes lock on mine. He doesn’t look thrilled to see me. “In my office,” he orders.

I weave my way through the crowd.

Aguirre is holding a manila folder with my name typed on it as he sits on the edge of his desk. “Come in, Luis. Sit down.”

I sit in one of his guest chairs and look around the room. Fairfield High School memorabilia is scattered on the walls, as well as pictures of Aguirre with old alumni. A tennis player, an NFL quarterback, and a news anchor are a few of the alumni pictures posted. Impressive.

I wonder if in ten years I’ll be in a picture with Aguirre that’s permanently displayed in his office.

Not right now, though. Right now Aguirre is looking at me with a mixture of annoyance and anger.

“The last time I had a Fuentes called into my office, it was your brother Alex. He was a magnet for trouble.” He slaps my file on the table. “I assumed you’d be different, Luis. You were a straight-A student at Flatiron High. That school is ranked as the second-best high school in Colorado for academics. You were in the honor society, active in student council, played soccer, and were cocaptain of the swim team.”

I nod. “Yes, sir.”

He leans forward. “So why the hell are you getting in fights in the locker room?”

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

Aguirre lets out a deep breath. “If I had a dollar every time I heard a student say I don’t know, I’d be a millionaire. No, a billionaire. I have a zero tolerance policy. Whatever altercation happened between you and Justin Dougan in the locker room has become my problem. You want to know what I do with my problems?”

I don’t answer.

He leans forward again and speaks in a quiet, slow voice meant to capture my undivided attention. “My problems get a detention. After that comes suspension. Three strikes, and you’re expelled.”

When he takes a blue slip off his desk and hands it to me, I swallow hard. My first detention. I am not, no matter what, going to get two strikes. Even if it means being called Mex for the next nine months.

“Does this go in my permanent file?” I ask, looking down at the offending blue slip.

“I’m afraid so.”

Shit. I briefly have a vision of breaking into the school office in the middle of the night and making the detention disappear. In movies people break into offices and steal files all the time. It would definitely be an adrenaline rush, especially if I was able to pull it off.

“Now get out of here,” Aguirre says. “I don’t want to see your face back in my office unless it’s to tell me you’re on the honor roll. Keep your head in your books, and we’ll get along just fine.”

“Is that it?” I ask him.

“No.” He smiles and opens his arms out wide. “Welcome to Fairfield High.”

12

Nikki

Luis had been talking to Marco and Mariana when he got called to Dr. Aguirre’s office. He walked with confidence and purpose out of the courtyard, and I found myself having a hard time tearing my gaze away until he was out of sight.

I hope he doesn’t remember me, although I have a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach that he didn’t forget our encounter at his brother’s wedding. How could he? The last image I have is him waving to me … naked. He looked ridiculously hot back then, and he’s still got the swagger. Just from the way he walks I can tell he knows he’s one of those guys with the “it” factor.

In the halls, girls were staring at him. He nodded and smiled at every girl who looked his way. Marco was flirting with the girls right along with him, like they were a tag team.

The next time I see Luis, it’s the last period of the day. Chemistry with Mrs. Peterson. Luis seems amused when he walks in the classroom and finds me sitting in the back row with Kendall and Derek. When the pregnant teacher announces that she assigns partners and we’ll be sitting in alphabetical order, my heart starts racing. My last name starts with a C and Luis’s starts with an F. I panic that we could be assigned as partners, until Mrs. Peterson calls out, “Mariana Castillo, you’re partnered with Nikki Cruz.”

Oh, no. Mariana and I have only one thing in common: our parents were born in Mexico. That’s it.

Mariana Castillo hated me when Marco and I dated, as if I took away her property. The few times Marco and I hung out with his friends, she’d always glare at me and make sure none of the other south side girls liked me. I was an outcast in their group, but as long as I had Marco by my side I didn’t care. Even though Marco and I aren’t together anymore, Mariana still hates me.

“Eww. How come I get stuck with the fake Latina?” Mariana mumbles.

“There isn’t anything fake about me, Mariana. You got a problem with me, go tell Mrs. Peterson.”

Mariana waves her hand in the air. “Mrs. Peterson, Nikki and I can’t be partners.”

Peterson stops and looks down at Mariana. “Yes, you can and yes, you will. Believe me, Miss Castillo, I get complaints every year, and not once have I changed partners.”

“But—”

“Zip it, or you’ll get a detention.”

Mariana shuts her mouth, but sneers at me as Mrs. Peterson goes down the rest of her list.

Luis is assigned to the table across from ours. Derek is assigned as his partner. I try not to have eye contact with Luis, but I find myself glancing up. Our eyes meet for a brief second before Mrs. Peterson knocks on Luis’s lab table.

“So I see I’m blessed with another Fuentes in my class,” our teacher says. “Your brother Alex was one of my more … challenging students. I guess I should give you the same lecture I gave your brother, Mr. Fuentes. No talking unless it’s lab time, and even that isn’t supposed to be used for chatter and gossip. It’s for work. Get it?”

“Got it,” Luis says, giving her a cocky thumbs-up.

“Let’s hope you’re better than your brother at following directions. Oh, and that reminds me …” She regards the rest of the class. “I have a zero tolerance policy. No cell phones allowed, even if it’s an emergency from your parents, your friends, your boyfriends or girlfriends, your dog, or even God. They can call the front office if it’s important enough. In addition, no gang-related clothing,” she says, looking right at Luis and then eyeing the rest of the class, “and no threats against any student or you’ll be out of my class permanently. I have detentions ready to hand out for anyone not following my rules. Now, take five minutes and introduce yourselves to your partner. Tell them interesting things about yourself, including your hobbies or what you did over the summer. Then you’ll introduce your partner to the class.”

“I can’t believe I have to partner with you,” Mariana mumbles.

“The feeling is mutual,” I mumble back.

Mariana picks up her notebook and turns to the first page. “So talk, so I can write something down and not get kicked out of class. I know you’re a rich bitch who used to date Marco Delgado until he broke up with you. Anything else I should share with the class?”

“Just tell the class that I help disabled dogs get adopted.”

“Seriously, that’s wack,” Mariana says with a grimace. “You tell the class that I got a hundred thousand views on the YouTube video I made.”

“Doing what?” I ask, wondering if she did a striptease act. Or maybe it was an instructional video on how to properly take a bong hit. I’m sure Mariana’s name wasn’t on the drug-free petition some freshman passed around last year for their community service project.

“I sing and dance … better than you, I’m sure.”

I write that piece of information down to share with the class when it’s my turn. Little does she know that dancing better than me is no difficult feat.

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