"You regret it?" I ask.
"Being a mom? Never. Seducing your father and making sure he didn't use a condom, yes."
"I don't want to hear this."
"Well, I'm gonna tell it to you whether you want to hear it or not. Be careful, Alex."
She takes another drag of her cigarette while shaking her head. "No, you don't get it. You might be careful, but girls won't be. Girls are manipulative. I should know, I'm one of them."
"The kind of girl who can make you do things you don't want to do."
"Believe me, Mom. She doesn't want a kid."
"No, but she'll want other things. Things you can never give her."
I look up at the stars, the moon, the universe that I know doesn't end. "But what if I want to give them to her?"
She lets out a slow breath, the action causing cigarette smoke to fly out of her mouth in one long stream. "At the age of thirty-five I'm old enough to have seen people die thinking they can change the ways of the world. No matter what you think, your father died trying to fix his life.
Your facts are distorted, Alejandro. You were just a little boy, too young to understand."
"I'm old enough now."
A tear escapes from her eye and she wipes it away. "Yes, well, now it's too late."
CHAPTER 43 Brittany
"Brit, please tell me again why we're picking up Alex Fuentes and taking him with us to Lake Geneva," Sierra says to me.
"My mom threatened me if I saw him outside of school, so going to Lake Geneva is a perfect place to hang out with him. Nobody will know us there."
"And I know you guys won't rat on me. Right?"
I catch Doug rolling his eyes. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Going to Lake Geneva for the day on a double date is sure to be fun. Well, once Sierra and Doug get over the initial shock of the two of us as a couple. "Please don't give me more shit about this."
"The guy's a loser, Brit," Doug says as he drives to the school parking lot where Alex should be waiting for us. "She's your best friend, Sierra. Talk some sense into her."
"I tried, but you know her. She's stubborn."
I sigh. "Can you please stop talking about me like I'm not even here? I like Alex. And he likes me. I want to give this thing a chance."
"And you're going to do that how? By keeping him a secret forever?" Sierra asks.
Thank goodness we reach the parking lot so I don't have to respond. Alex is sitting on the curb beside his motorcycle, his long legs stretched in front of him. I chew my bottom lip anxiously as I open the door to the backseat.
When he sees Doug driving and Sierra next to him, a muscle in his jaw tenses.
"Come on in, Alex," I say, and slide over.
He leans into the car. "I don't think this is a good idea."
"Don't be silly. Doug promised to be nice. Isn't that right, Doug?" I hold my breath for the answer.
Doug gives an impersonal nod. "Sure," he says, totally monotone.
Any other guy would leave, I'm sure of it. But Alex slides in beside me. "Where we goin'?" he asks.
"Lake Geneva," I say. "Ever been there before?"
"It's about an hour away. Doug's parents have a cabin there."
As we drive, you'd think we were in a library instead of a car. Nobody says a word. When Doug stops for gas, Alex gets out, walks off, and lights a cigarette.
I sink lower in my seat. So far, this is not how I'd envisioned the day turning out. Sierra and Doug are usually hilarious together, but this is about as much fun as a funeral.
"Can you at least try and make conversation?" I ask my best friend. "I mean, you can spend hours talking about what kind of dog you'd rather kiss but you can't even put two words together in front of a guy I like."
Sierra turns around in her seat to face me. "I'm sorry. It's just that. . . Brit, you can do better. A LOT better."
"Like Colin, you mean."
"Like anyone." Sierra huffs and turns back around.
Alex gets into the car and I give him a weak smile. When he doesn't smile back, I take his hand in mine. He doesn't return the hold, but he doesn't pull away. Is that a good sign?
When we drive from the station, Alex says, "You've got a loose tire. Hear that noise comin' from the left rear?"
Doug shrugs. "It's been like that for a month. No biggie."
"Pull over and I'll fix it," Alex says. "If it falls off on the highway, we're toast."
I can tell Doug doesn't want to rely on Alex's assessment, but after about a mile he grudgingly stops on the side of the road.
"Doug," Sierra says, pointing to the adult bookstore we're in front of. "Do you know what kind of people go in there?"
"Right now, sweetheart, I really don't give a shit." He turns to Alex. "Okay, big shot. Fix the car."
Alex and Doug step out. "I'm sorry I bitched at you," I say to Sierra.
"I'm sorry, too."
"Do you think Doug and Alex will start fighting?"
"Maybe. We better get out there and distract them."
Outside, Alex takes tools out of the trunk.
After jacking up the car, Alex holds the tire iron in his hands. Doug has his hands on his hips and his jaw thrust forward in defiance.
"Thompson, what's up your ass?" Alex asks.
"I don't like you, Fuentes."
"You think you're my favorite person?" Alex snaps back as he kneels beside the tire and tightens the lug nuts.
I look over at Sierra. Should we intervene? Sierra shrugs. I shrug. It's not as if they've come to blows . . . yet.
A car screeches beside us. Four Hispanic guys are inside, two in the front and two in back. Alex ignores them as he lowers the jack and returns it to the trunk.
"Hey, mamacitas! How about you ditch those losers and come with us. We'll show you a real good time," one of them shouts through the window.
"Fuck off," Doug shouts.
One of the guys stumbles out of the car and advances on Doug. Sierra yells something but I'm not paying attention. Instead, I'm watching Alex tear off his jacket and block the guy's path.
"Get out of my way," the guy orders. "Don't lower yourself by protecting this white dick."
Alex stands toe to toe with the guy, the tire iron gripped tightly in his hand. "You fuck with the white dick, you fuck with me. It's that simple. Comprendes, amigo?"
Another guy steps out of the car. We are in some serious trouble.
"Girls, take the keys and get in the car," Alex orders, his tone precise.
"But . . ."
There's a lethal calmness in his eyes. Oh, boy. He's dead serious.
Doug tosses Sierra his car keys. Now what? Are we supposed to sit in the car and watch them fight? "I'm not going anywhere," I tell him.
"Me, either," Sierra says.
A guy in the other car sticks his head out of the window. "Alejo, that you?"
Alex's stance relaxes. "Tiny? What the hell you doin' with these pendejos?"
The guy named Tiny says something in Spanish to his buddies and they jump back into the car. They almost seem relieved they won't have to fight Alex and Doug.
"I'll tell you as soon as you tell me what you're doin' with a bunch of gringos," Tiny says.
Alex chuckles. "Get out of here."
When we're all back in the car, I hear Doug say, "Thanks for having my back."
Alex mumbles, "Don't sweat it."
Nobody speaks again until we reach the outskirts of Lake Geneva. Doug parks in front of a sports bar for lunch. Inside, Sierra and I order chopped salads while Doug and Alex order burgers.
In the booth while we're waiting for food, nobody is talking. I kick Sierra under the table.
"So, urn, Alex," she starts. "See any good movies lately?"
"Apply to any colleges?"
Alex shakes his head.
Surprisingly, Doug sits up and takes over. "Who taught you so much about cars?"
"My cousin," Alex says. "On weekends I'd hang at his house and watch him bring cars back from the dead."
"My dad has a '72 Karmann Ghia sitting in our garage. He thinks it'll magically start running."
"What's wrong with it?" Alex asks.
As Doug explains, Alex listens intently. While they discuss the pros and cons of buying refurbished engine parts off of eBay, I sit back and relax. The tension from earlier seems to disintegrate the longer they talk.
After we finish eating, we walk down Main Street. Alex takes my hand in his, and I can't think of anything I'd rather do than be here with him.
"Ooh, there's that new gallery," Sierra says, pointing across the street. "Look, they're having a grand opening. Let's go in!"
"Cool," I say.
"I'll hang outside," Alex says as we follow Sierra and Doug across the street. "I'm not a gallery kind of guy."
That's not true. When is he going to realize that he doesn't have to live up to the stereotype everyone else has placed on him? Once he goes inside, he'll realize he's as welcome in a gallery as he is in the auto body. "Come on," I say, pulling him inside. I smile inwardly as we enter the gallery.
A huge spread of food is laid out. About forty people are milling about, observing the artwork.
I tour the gallery with Alex, who's walking stiffly at my side. "Loosen up," I tell him.
"Easy for you to say," he mumbles.
CHAPTER 44 Alex
Bringing me into a gallery wasn't the best idea she's ever had. When Sierra pulled Brittany away from me to show her a painting, I've never felt more out of place.
I wander around and scan the food table, thankful we already ate. You can't really call this stuff food, actually. Sushi, which I'm tempted to nuke in order to make edible. Then there are sandwiches the size of a quarter.
"We're out of wasabi."
I'm still concentrating on identifying the assortment of food when someone taps me on the back.
I turn around to a short, blond white guy. He reminds me of Burro Face and I immediately want to push him away.
"We're out of wasabi," he says again.
If I knew what the fuck wasabi was, I could respond. But I don't, so I don't. And it makes me feel stupid.
"Don't you speak English?"
My hand balls into a fist. Yes, I speak English, you dumbass. But the last time I was in English class the word "wasabi" wasn't on a fucking spelling test. Instead of responding, I ignore the guy and walk away to look at one of the paintings.
The one I stop at shows a girl and a dog walking on what looks like a sloppy imitation of the Earth.
"There you are," Brittany says, coming to my side. Doug and Sierra are right behind her.
"Brit, this is Perry Landis," Doug says, pointing to the Colin look-alike. "The artist."
"Omigod, your work is amazing!" Brittany says, gushing at him.
She said "omigod" as if she really is an airhead. Is she kidding me?
The guy looks over her shoulder at his painting. "What do you think of this one?" he asks her.
Brittany clears her throat. "I think it shows great insight to the relationship between man, animal, and Earth."