Other students are gathering around us, leaving room for a fight that is sure to be fast, furious, and bloody. Little do they know Burro Face is a runner. This time he's got backup, though, so maybe he'll stay to duke it out. I'm always prepared for a fight, been in more of 'em than I can count on my fingers and toes. I've got the scars to prove it.
"Colin, he's not worth it," Brittany says.
Thanks, mamacita. Right back at ya.
"You threatening me, Fuentes?" Colin barks, ignoring his girlfriend.
"No, asshole," I say, staring him down. "Little dicks like you make threats."
Brittany parks her body in front of Colin and puts her hand on his chest. "Don't listen to him," she says.
"I'm not afraid of you. My dad's a lawyer," Colin brags, then puts his arm around Brittany. "She's mine. Don't ever forget that."
"Then keep a leash on her," I advise. "Or she might be tempted to find a new owner."
My friend Paco comes up beside me. "Andas bien, Alex?"
"Yeah, Paco," I tell him, then watch as two teachers walk down the hall escorted by a guy in a police uniform. This is what Adams wants, perfectly planned to get my ass kicked out of school. I'm not falling into his trap only to end up on Aguirre's hit list. "Si, everything's bien." I turn to Brittany. "Catch ya later, mamacita. I'm looking forward to researching our chemistry."
Before I leave and save myself from suspension on top of my detention, Brittany sticks that perky nose of hers in the air as if I'm the scum of the earth.
CHAPTER 7 Brittany
After school I'm at my locker when my friends Morgan, Madison, and Megan come up to me. Sierra calls them the Fairfield M-factor.
Morgan hugs me. "Oh my God, are you okay?" she asks, pulling away and examining me.
"I heard Colin protected you. He's amazing. You're so lucky, Brit," Madison says, her signature curls bouncing with each word.
"It wasn't a big deal," I say, wondering what the rumor is in contrast to what really happened.
"What exactly did Alex say?" Megan asks. "Caitlin took a picture on her cell of Alex and Colin in the hallway, but I couldn't make out what was going on."
"You guys better not be late for practice," Darlene yells from the end of the hallway. Just as quickly as Darlene appeared, she's gone.
Megan opens her locker, which is next to mine, and pulls out her poms. "I hate the way Darlene kisses Ms. Small's butt," she says under her breath.
I close my locker and we walk toward the practice field. "I think she's trying to focus on dance instead of obsessing about Tyler going back to college."
Morgan rolls her eyes. "Whatever. I don't even have a boyfriend so she gets zero sympathy from me."
"No sympathy from my end, either. Seriously, when is that girl not dating someone?" Madison asks.
When we reach the practice field, our entire squad is sitting on the grass waiting for Ms. Small. Phew, we're not late.
"I still can't believe you got stuck with Alex Fuentes," Darlene says quietly to me as I find an open spot beside her.
"Wanna switch partners?" I ask, although Mrs. Peterson would never allow it. She made that crystal clear.
Darlene sticks her tongue out in full gross-out mode and whispers, "No way. I never go slumming on the south side. Mixing with that crowd'll get you nothing but trouble. Remember last year when Alyssa McDaniel dated that one guy . . . what was his name?"
"Jason Avila?" I say in a low voice.
Darlene does a little shiver. "In a matter of weeks Alyssa went from being cool to being an outcast. The south side girls hated her for taking one of their guys and she stopped hanging with us. The confused little couple was on an island all alone. Thank God Alyssa broke up with him."
Ms. Small walks toward us with her CD player, complaining about someone moving it from her usual spot and that's why she's late.
When Ms. Small tells us to stretch, Sierra nudges Darlene over so she can talk to me.
"You are in big trouble, girl," Sierra says.
Sierra has "super" eyes and ears; she knows everything going on at Fairfield.
My best friend says, "Rumor has it Carmen Sanchez is looking for you."
Oh, no. Carmen is Alex's girlfriend. I'm trying not to freak out and think the worst, but Carmen is tough, from her red-painted fingernails all the way down to her black, stiletto-heeled boots. Is she jealous I'm Alex's chem partner, or does she think I reported her boyfriend to the principal today?
The truth is I didn't report him. I got called into Dr. Aguirre's office because someone who'd seen the parking incident and witnessed our confrontation on the steps this morning reported it. Which was ridiculous because nothing happened.
Aguirre didn't believe me. He thought I was too scared to tell him the truth. I wasn't scared then.
But I am now.
Carmen Sanchez can kick my butt any day of the week. She probably practices with weapons, and the only weapon I know how to use is, well, my pom-poms. Call me crazy but somehow I doubt my poms will scare off a girl like Carmen.
Maybe in a word war I would make a good showing, but definitely not in a fistfight. Guys fight because of some primal, innate gene that makes them prove themselves physically.
Maybe Carmen wants to prove something to me, but there is seriously no need. I'm no threat, but how do I let her know that? It's not like I'm going to go up to her and say, "Hey, Carmen, I'm not going to make a move on your boyfriend and I never reported him to Dr. Aguirre." Or maybe I should. . . .
Most people think nothing bothers me. I'm not going to let them know something does. I've worked too long and hard to keep up this facade and I'm not about to lose it all because some gang member and his girlfriend are testing me.
"I'm not worrying about it," I tell Sierra.
My best friend shakes her head. "I know you, Brit. You're stressing," she whispers.
Now that statement worries me more than the idea of Carmen looking for me. Because I try really hard to keep everyone at a distance . . . not really knowing what it's truly like to be me or what it's like to live at my house. But I've let Sierra know more about me than everyone else. I wonder if I should back off from our friendship sometimes, to make sure she's kept at arm's length.
Logically, I know I'm paranoid. Sierra is a true friend; she was even there when I cried last year about my mom's nervous breakdown but never revealed the reason. She let me cry it out, even when I refused to give her details.
I don't want to end up like my mom. That's my biggest fear in life.
Ms. Small has us get in formation, then plays the custom music made for our squad by the music department while I count off. It's a mixture of hip-hop and rap music, specially mixed for our routine. We've titled our routine "Big, Bad Bulldogs" because our team mascot is the bulldog. My body hums to the beat. That's what I love about being part of the squad. It's the music that pulls me in and makes me forget about my problems at home. Music is my drug, the one thing that makes me numb.
"Ms. Small, can we try starting in the broken T position instead of the T position like we previously practiced?" I say. "Then go into the low V and high V combos with Morgan, Isabel, and Caitlin moving to the front. I think it'll look cleaner."
Ms. Small smiles, obviously pleased with my suggestion. "Good idea, Brittany. Let's try it. We'll start in the broken T position, elbows bent. During the transition I want Morgan, Isabel, and Caitlin in the front row. Remember to keep your shoulders down. Sierra, please make your wrists an extension of your arms instead of bending them."
"Yes, ma'am," Sierra says from behind me.
Ms. Small plays the music again. The beat, the lyrics, the instruments . . . they all seep into my veins and lift me up no matter how low I feel. As I dance in sync with the other girls, I forget about Carmen and Alex and my mom and everything else.
The song is over too quickly. I still want to move to the beat and the lyrics when Ms. Small turns off her CD player. The second time around is better, but our formation needs work and some of the new girls are having a hard time with the steps.
"Brittany, you teach the basic moves to the new girls and then we'll try it as a group again. Darlene, you lead the rest of the squad in reviewing the steps," Ms. Small instructs as she hands me the CD player.
Isabel is in my group. She kneels down to take a drink from her water bottle. "Don't worry about Carmen," she says. "Most of the time her bark is worse than her bite."
"Thanks," I say. Isabel looks tough, with her red Latino Blood bandanna, three eyebrow rings, and hands always folded on her chest when she's not doing the routines. But she has kind eyes. And smiles a lot. Her smile softens her harsh appearance, although if she put a pink bow in her hair instead of a red Latino Blood bandanna I bet she'd actually look girly. "You're in my chemistry class, aren't you?" I ask.
"And you know Alex Fuentes?"
She nods again.
"Are the rumors about him true?" I ask carefully, not knowing how she's going to react to my prying. If I'm not careful, I'll have a long list of people who are out to get me.
Isabel's long brown hair moves as she talks. "Depends on which ones you're referring to."
As I'm about to rattle off the list of rumors outlining Alex's drug use and police arrests, Isabel stands. "Listen, Brittany," she says. "You and me, we'll never be friends. But I have to tell you, no matter how much of a jerk Alex was to you today, he's not as bad as the rumors. He's even not as bad as he'd like to think he is."
Before I can ask another question, Isabel is back in formation.
An hour and a half later, when we're all exhausted and crabby and even I've had enough, we're dismissed from practice. I make a point of walking over to a sweating Isabel and telling her what a good job she did today on the routine.
"Really?" she asks, looking surprised.
"You're a fast learner," I tell her. It's true. For a girl who never tried out for poms the first three years of high school, she's caught on to the routine really fast. "That's why we put you on the front line."
While Isabel's mouth is still open in shock, I wonder if she believes the rumors she's heard about me. No, we'll never be friends. But I can tell we'll never be enemies, either.
After practice I walk to my car with Sierra, who's busy texting her boyfriend, Doug, on her cell.
A piece of paper is tucked under one of my windshield wipers. I pull it off. It's Alex's blue detention slip. Crumpling it up, I shove it into my book bag.
"What was that?" Sierra asks.
"Nothing," I say, hoping she gets the hint that I don't want to talk about it.
"Guys, wait up!" Darlene yells, running up to us. "I saw Colin on the football field. He said to wait for him."
I look at my watch. It's almost six and I want to get home to help Baghda make my sister's dinner. "I can't."
"Doug texted me back," Sierra says, "He's invited us for pizza at his house."
"I can come," Darlene says. "I've been so bored now that Tyler is back at Purdue and I probably won't see him for weeks."
Sierra is still texting away. "I thought you were gonna visit him next weekend."