Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry #1)(20) by Simone Elkeles

Diego Vasquez, a guy from school, was born on the north side of Fairfield. Of course, my friends consider him a white guy even though his skin is darker than mine. They also think Mike Burns, a white guy who lives on the south side, is Mexican even though he doesn't have any Mexican blood in his body. Or Latino blood, for that matter. Yet he's considered one of us. In Fairfield, where you were born defines who you are.

A horn beeps loudly in front of the garage.

Enrique presses the button to raise the large garage door.

Javier Moreno's car screeches inside. "Close the door, Enrique," Javier orders breathlessly. "La policia are lookin' for us."

My cousin slams his fist on the button again and turns off the lights to the shop. "What the hell did you guys do?"

Carmen is in the backseat, her eyes bloodshot from either drugs or alcohol; I can't tell which. And she's been messing around with whoever is back there with her, because I know all too well what Carmen looks like when she's been messing around.

"Raul tried to smoke a Satin Hood," Carmen slurs, sticking her head out of the car window. "But he's got lousy aim."

Raul turns to her and yells at her from the front passenger seat, "Puta, you try and shoot a movin' target while Javier's driving."

I roll my eyes as Javier steps out of the car. "You dissin' my driving, Raul?" he says. " 'Cause if you are, I have a fist here that I'll ram into your face."

Raul steps out of the car. "You want a piece of me, culero?"

I step in front of Raul and hold him back.

"Shit, guys. La policia are right outside." These are the first words out of Sam, the guy who Carmen must have been with tonight.

Everyone in the garage ducks as the police shine their flashlights through the windows. I crouch behind a large tool drawer, holding my breath. The last thing I need is attempted murder on my record. I've miraculously avoided getting arrested, but one day my luck is bound to run out.

A gang member rarely avoids the cops. Or jail time.

Enrique's face shows what he's thinking. He finally saved enough to open this shop, and now four high school punks could ruin his dream if anyone makes a sound. The cops will take my cousin, with his old LB tattoos on the back of his neck, in right along with the rest of us.

And he'll be out of business within a week.

The door to the shop jiggles. I wince and pray please be locked.

The cops give up on the door, then shine their flashlights in the garage again. I wonder who tipped them off--nobody in this neighborhood would narc. A secret code of silence and affiliation keeps families safe.

After what seems like forever, the cops drive away.

"Shit, that was close," Javier says.

"Too close," Enrique agrees. "Wait ten minutes, then get outta here."

Carmen steps out of the car--actually, trips out. "Hiya, Alex. I missed you tonight."

My gaze rests on Sam. "Yeah, I see how much you missed me."

"Sam? Oh, I don't really like him," she coos, coming close. I can smell the mota radiating off her. "I'm waiting for you to come back to me."

"Not gonna happen."

"Is it because of your stupid chemistry partner?" She grabs ray chin, trying to force me to look at her, her long nails digging into my skin.

I grab both her wrists and pull them aside, all the time wondering how my tough-as-nails ex-girlfriend turned into a tough-as-nails bitch. "Brittany has nothin' to do with you and me. I hear you've been talkin' shit to her."

"Did Isa tell you that?" she asks, her eyes narrowed into slits.

"Just back off," I say, ignoring her question, "or you'll have a lot more to deal with than a bitter ex-boyfriend."

"Are you bitter, Alex? Because you don't act bitter. You act like you don't give a shit."

She's right. After I found her sleeping around, it took me a while to get over it, get over her. I wondered what other guys were giving her that I couldn't.

"I used to give a shit," I tell her. "I don't now."

Carmen slaps me. "Fuck you, Alex."

"Lovers' quarrel?" Javier drawls from the hood of the car.

"Collate," Carmen and I say simultaneously.

Carmen whips around, stalks back to the car, and slides into the backseat. I watch as she pulls Sam's head toward her. The sounds of heavy kissing and moaning fill the auto shop.

Javier calls out, "Enrique, open the door. We're outta here."

Raul, who'd taken a leak in the bathroom, asks me, "Alex, you comin'? We need you, man. Paco and this Satin Hood are gonna fight at Gilson Park tonight. The Hood never fight fair, you know."

Paco didn't tell me about the fight, probably because he knew I'd try to talk him out of it. Sometimes my best friend gets into situations he can't get out of.

And sometimes he exposes me to situations I can't help but get into.

"I'm in," I say, then jump into the front seat so Raul is stuck in back with the two lovebirds.

We slow down a block before we reach the park. The tension in the air is thick, I can feel it in my bones. Where is Paco? Is he getting the shit kicked out of him in the back of an alley?

It's dark. Shadows move, making my hair stand on end. Everything looks menacing, even the trees blowing in the wind. During the day, Gilson Park resembles any other suburban park . . . except for the LB graffiti on the buildings surrounding the park. This is our territory. We've marked it.