"That's enough, Colin. Alex, sit down." Mrs. Peterson eyes the rest of the class. "That goes for the rest of you, as well. I can't control what you do outside of this room, but in my class I'm the boss." She turns back to Alex. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Si, senora," Alex says, deliberately slow.
Mrs. Peterson goes down the rest of the list while I do everything in my power not to make eye contact with the guy sitting next to me. It's too bad I left my purse in my locker or I could pretend to look for nothing like Sierra did this morning.
"This sucks," Alex mumbles to himself. His voice is dark and husky. Does he make it that way on purpose?
How am I going to explain to my mother I have to partner with Alex Fuentes? Oh, God, I hope she doesn't blame me somehow for screwing this up.
I glance at my boyfriend, deep in conversation with Darlene. I'm so jealous. Why couldn't my last name be Allis instead of Ellis so I could sit next to him?
It'd be cool if God gave everyone a Do Over Day and you could yell "Do Over!" and the day would start new. This would definitely qualify for a DOD.
Does Mrs. Peterson actually think it's reasonable to pair the captain of the pom-pom squad with the most dangerous guy in school? The woman is delusional.
Mrs. Delusional finally finishes assigning seats. "I know you seniors think you know everything. But never think of yourself as a success until you can help treat diseases that plague mankind or make the earth a safer place to live. The field of chemistry plays a crucial role in developing medicines, radiation treatments for cancer patients, petroleum uses, the ozone--"
Alex raises his hand.
"Alex," the teacher says. "Do you have a question?"
"Uh, Mrs. Peterson, are you sayin' the president of the U.S. isn't a success?"
"What I'm saying is . . . money and status aren't everything. Use your brain and do something for mankind or the planet you live on. Then you're a success. And you'll have earned my respect, which not many people in this world can boast about."
"I got things I can boast about, Mrs. P.," Alex says, obviously amusing himself.
Mrs. Peterson holds up a hand. "Please spare us the details, Alex."
I shake my head. If Alex thinks antagonizing the teacher will get us a good grade, he's sadly mistaken. It's obvious Mrs. Peterson doesn't like smart-asses and my partner is already on her radar.
"Now," Mrs. Delusional says, "look at the person sitting next to you."
Anything but that. But I don't have a choice. I glance over at Colin again, who seems pretty content with his assigned partner. Darlene already has a boyfriend or I seriously would be questioning why she's leaning a bit too close to Colin and flipping her hair back too many times. I tell myself I'm being paranoid.
"You don't have to like your partner," Mrs. Peterson says, "but you're stuck together for the next ten months. Take five minutes to get to know each other, then each of you will introduce your partner to the class. Talk about what you did over the summer, what hobbies you have, or anything else interesting or unique your classmates might not know about you. Your five minutes start now."
I take out my notebook, flip to the first page, and shove it at Alex. "Why don't you write down stuff about yourself in my notebook and I'll do the same in yours." It's better than trying to have a conversation with him.
Alex nods in agreement, although I think I caught the corners of his mouth twitch as he hands me his notebook. Did I imagine that twitch or did it really happen? Taking a deep breath, I wipe that thought from my mind and write diligently until Mrs. Peterson instructs us to stop and listen to each other's introductions.
"This is Darlene Boehm," Colin begins, being the first to speak.
But I don't hear the rest of Colin's speech about Darlene and her trip to Italy and her experience at dance camp this summer. Instead, I glance down at the notebook given back to me by Alex and stare at the words on the page with my mouth open.
CHAPTER 6 Alex
Okay, so I shouldn't have fucked with her on the introduction thing. Writing nothing except, Saturday night. You and me. Driving lessons and hot sex ... in her notebook probably wasn't the smartest move. But I was itching to make Little Miss Perfecta stumble in her introduction of me. And stumbling she is.
I watch in amusement as Perfection herself looks up at Peterson. Oh, she's good. This partner of mine knows how to hide her true emotions, something I recognize because I do it all the time.
"Yes?" Brittany says, tilting her head and smiling like a beauty queen.
I wonder if that smile has ever gotten her out of a speeding ticket.
"It's your turn. Introduce Alex to the class."
I lean an elbow on the lab table, waiting for an introduction she has to either make up or fess up she knows less than crap about me. She glances at my comfortable position and I can tell from her deer-in-the-headlights look I've stumped her.
"This is Alejandro Fuentes," she starts, her voice hitching the slightest bit. My temper flares at the mention of my given name, but I keep a cool facade as she continues with a made-up introduction. "When he wasn't hanging out on street corners and harassing innocent people this summer, he toured the inside of jails around the city, if you know what I mean. And he has a secret desire nobody would ever guess."
The room suddenly becomes quiet. Even Peterson straightens to attention. Hell, even I'm listening like the words coming out of Brittany's lying, pink-frosted lips are gospel.
"His secret desire," she continues, "is to go to college and become a chemistry teacher, like you, Mrs. Peterson."
Yeah, right. I look over at my friend Isa, who seems amused that a white girl isn't afraid of giving me smack in front of the entire class.
Brittany flashes me a triumphant smile, thinking she's won this round. Guess again, gringa.
I sit up in my chair while the class remains silent.
"This is Brittany Ellis," I say, all eyes now focused on me. "This summer she went to the mall, bought new clothes so she could expand her wardrobe, and spent her daddy's money on plastic surgery to enhance her, ahem, assets."
It might not be what she wrote, but it's probably close enough to the truth. Unlike her introduction of me.
Chuckles come from mis cuates in the back of the class, and Brittany is as stiff as a board beside me, as if my words hurt her precious ego. Brittany Ellis is used to people fawning all over her and she could use a little wake-up call. I'm actually doing her a favor. Little does she know I'm not finished with her intro.
"Her secret desire," I add, getting the same reaction as she did during her introduction, "is to date a Mexicano before she graduates."
As expected, my words are met by comments and low whistles from the back of the room.
"Way to go, Fuentes," my friend Lucky barks out.
"I'll date you, mamacita," another says.
I give a high five to another Latino Blood named Marcus sitting behind me just as I catch Isa shaking her head as if I did something wrong. What? I'm just having a little fun with a rich girl from the north side.
Brittany's gaze shifts from Colin to me. I take one look at Colin and with my eyes tell him game on. Colin's face instantly turns bright red, resembling a chile pepper. I have definitely invaded his territory. Good.
"Quiet down, class," Peterson says sternly. "Thank you for those very creative and . . . enlightening introductions. Miss Ellis and Mr. Fuentes, please see me after class."
"Your introductions were not only appalling, they were disrespectful to me and the rest of your classmates," Peterson says after class as Brittany and I stand in front of her desk. "You have a choice." Our teacher holds out two blue detention slips in one hand and two pieces of notebook paper in the other. "You can either serve detention today after school or write a five-hundred-word essay on 'respect' to hand in tomorrow. Which is it?"
I reach over and grab the detention slip. Brittany reaches out for the notebook paper. Figures.
"Do either of you have a problem with the way I assign chemistry partners?" Peterson asks.
Brittany says, "Yes," at the same time I say, "Nope."
Peterson sets her glasses on her desk. "Listen, you two better work out your differences before this year is up. Brittany, I won't be assigning you a different partner. You're both seniors and will have to deal with a plethora of people and personalities after you graduate. If you don't want to go to summer school for flunking my class, I suggest you work together instead of against each other. Now hurry to your next class."
With that, I follow my little chem partner out of the room and down the hall.
"Stop following me," she snaps, looking over her shoulder to check how many people are watching us walk down the hall together.
As if I'm el diablo himself.
"Wear long sleeves on Saturday night," I tell her, knowing full well she's reaching the end of her sanity rope. I usually don't try to get under the skin of white chicks, but this one is fun to rattle. This one, the most popular and coveted one of all, actually cares. "It gets pretty cold on the back of my motorcycle."
"Listen, Alex," she says, whipping herself around and tossing that sun-kissed hair over her shoulder. She faces me with clear eyes made of ice. "I don't date guys in gangs, and I don't use drugs."
"I don't date guys in gangs, either," I say, stepping closer to her. "And I'm no user."
"Yeah, right. I'm surprised you're not in rehab or some juvie boot camp."
"You think you know me?"
"I know enough." She folds her arms across her chest, but then looks down as if she realizes her stance makes her chichis stand out, and drops her hands to her sides.
I'm doing my best not to focus on those chichis as I take a step forward. "Did you report me to Aguirre?"
She takes a step back. "What if I did?"
"Mujer, you're afraid of me." It's not a question. I just want to hear from her own lips what her reason is.
"Most people at this school are scared that if they look at you wrong, you'll gun them down."
"Then my gun should be smokin' by now, shouldn't it? Why aren't you runnin' away from the badass Mexicano, huh?"
"Give me half a chance, I will."
I've had enough of dancing around this little bitch. It's time to fluff up those feathers to make sure I end up with the upper hand. I close the distance between us and whisper in her ear, "Face the facts. Your life is too perfect. You probably lie awake at night, fantasizing about spicin' up all that lily whiteness you live in." But damn it, I get a whiff of vanilla from her perfume or lotion. It reminds me of cookies. I love cookies, so this is not good at all. "Gettin' near the fire, chica, doesn't necessarily mean you'll get burned."
"You touch her and you'll regret it, Fuentes," Colin's voice rings out. He resembles a burro, with his big white teeth and ears sticking out from his buzz cut. "Get the hell away from her."
"Colin," Brittany says. "It's okay. I can handle this."
Burro Face brought reinforcements: three other pasty white dudes, standing behind him for backup. I size up Burro Face and his friends to see if I can take them all on, and decide I could give all four a run for their money. "When you're strong enough to play in the big leagues, jock boy, then I'll listen to the mierda flyin' out of your mouth," I say.