"Um . . . you okay?" I ask.

"If this gets around, I'm never going to live it down. Oh, God, if Mrs. Peterson calls my parents I'm dead. Or at least I'll wish I was dead." She keeps talking and shaking, as if she's a car with bad shocks and no brakes.


". . . and my mom'll blame it on me. It's my fault, I know. But she'll freak out on me and then I'll have to explain and hope she--"

Before she can get another word out I yell, "Brittany!" The girl looks up at me with an expression so confused I don't know whether to feel sorry for her or stunned she's rambling and can't seem to stop. "You're the one freakin' out," I comment, stating the obvious.

Her eyes are usually clear and bright, but now they're dull and blank as if she's not all here.

She looks down and around and everywhere except directly at me. "No, I'm not. I'm fine."

"The hell you are. Look at me."

She hesitates. "I'm fine," she says, now focused on a locker across the hall. "Just forget everything I just said."

"If you don't look at me, I'm gonna bleed all over the floor and need a fuckin' transfusion. Look at me, dammit."

Her breathing is still heavy as she focuses on me. "What? If you want to tell me my life is out of control, I'm already aware of it."

"I know you didn't mean to hurt me," I tell her. "Even if you did, I probably deserved it." I'm hoping to lighten the mood so the girl doesn't have a complete breakdown in the hallway. "Makin' mistakes ain't a crime, you know. What's the use in having a reputation if you can't ruin it every now and then?"

"Don't try and make me feel better, Alex. I hate you."

"I hate you, too. Now please move out of the way so the janitor doesn't have to spend all day moppin' up my blood. He's a relative, you know."

She shakes her head, not believing for an instant the head janitor at Fairfield is a relative. Okay, so he isn't exactly a relative. But he does have family in Atencingo, the same small town where my mom has cousins in Mexico.

Instead of moving out of the way, my chem partner opens the door to the nurse's office for me. I think she's functioning even if her hands are still shaking.

"He's bleeding," she calls out to Miss Koto, the school nurse.

Miss Koto has me sit down on one of the examining tables. "What happened here?"

I look over at Brittany. She has a worried look on her face, as if she's concerned I might croak right here. I hope to God that's what the Angel of Death looks like before I kick the bucket. I'd be more than happy to go to hell if a face like Brittany's was greeting me.

"My staples opened up," I say. "No big deal."

"And how did that happen?" Miss Koto asks as she wets a white cloth and dabs it on my arm. I hold my breath, waiting for the stinging to recede. I'm also not about to narc on my partner, especially since I'm trying to seduce her.

"I hit him," Brittany says, her voice hitching.

Miss Koto turns around, stunned. "You hit him?"

"By accident," I chime in, not having a clue why I suddenly want to protect this girl who hates me and would probably rather flunk Mrs. P.'s class than have to partner with me.

My plans with Brittany are not working. The only feeling she's admitted to having toward me is hatred. But the thought of Lucky on my motorcycle is more painful than the antiseptic crap Miss Koto is now rubbing on my wound.

I've got to get Brittany alone if I'm gonna have any chance of saving face and saving my Honda. Does her freakout session mean she really doesn't hate me? I've never seen that girl do anything not scripted or 100 percent intentional. She's a robot. Or so I thought. She's always looked and acted like a princess on camera every time I've seen her. Who knew it'd be my bloody arm that would crack her.

I look over at Brittany. She's focused on my arm and Miss Koto's ministrations. I wish we were back in the library. I could swear back there she was thinking about getting it on with me.

I'm sporting la tengo dura right here in front of Miss Koto just thinking about it. Gracias a Dios the nurse walks over to the medicine cabinet, Where's a large chem book when you need one?

"Let's hang Thursday after school. You know, to work on the outline," I tell Brittany for two reasons. First, I need to stop thinking about getting naked with her in front of Miss Koto. Second, I want Brittany to myself.

"I'm busy Thursday," she says.

Probably with Burro Face. Obviously she'd rather be with that pendejo than me.

"Friday, then," I say, testing her although I probably shouldn't. Testing a girl like Brittany could put a serious damper on my ego. Although I caught her at a time when she's vulnerable and still shaking from seeing my blood. I admit I'm a manipulative asshole.

She bites her bottom lip that she thinks is glossed with the wrong color. "I can't Friday, either." My hard-on is officially deflated. "What about Saturday morning?" she says. "We can meet at the Fairfield Library."

"You sure you can pencil me into your busy schedule?"

"Shut up. I'll meet you there at ten."

"It's a date," I say while Miss Koto, obviously eavesdropping, finishes wrapping my arm with dorky gauze.

Brittany gathers her books. "It's not a date, Alex," she says over her shoulder.

I grab my book and hurry into the hallway after her. She's walking alone. The loudspeaker music isn't playing so class is still on.

"It might not be a date, but you still owe me a kiss. I always collect debts." My chem partner's eyes go from dull to shining mad and full of fire. Mmm, dangerous. I wink at her. "And don't sweat about what lip gloss to wear on Saturday. You'll just have to reapply it after we make out."

CHAPTER 15 Brittany

One thing in life is certain--I am not making out with Alex Fuentes.

Thankfully Mrs. Peterson had us busy doing experiments all week, giving us no time to talk except about who's going to light the Bunsen burner. Although every time I looked at Alex's bandaged arm it reminded me of when I whacked him.

I'm trying not to think about him while I gloss my lips for my date with Colin. It's Friday night and we're going to dinner and a movie.

After double-checking and triple-checking myself in the mirror, and attaching the Tiffany's bracelet he gave me for our anniversary last year, I head to the backyard, where my sister is in our pool with her physical therapist. My mom, wearing her pink velour cover-up, is lounging on a chaise reading some home-design magazine.

It's pretty quiet, except for the physical therapist's voice instructing Shelley.

Mom puts down her magazine, her face tight and stern. "Brit, don't be out past ten thirty."

"We're seeing an eight-o'clock movie, Mom. We'll be home after that."

"You heard what I said. No later than ten thirty. If you have to leave the movie early to get home on time, so be it. Colin's parents won't respect a girl without a curfew."

Our doorbell rings. "That's probably him," I say.

"You better hurry up and get it. A boy like that won't wait forever, you know."

I rush to the front door before my mom does it for me and makes a fool out of both of us. Colin is standing on our front stoop with a dozen red roses in his hand.

"For you," he says, surprising me.

Wow! I'm feeling stupid for thinking about Alex so much this past week. I hug Colin and give him a kiss, a real one on the lips.

"Let me put these in water," I say, stepping back.

I hum happily as I walk to the kitchen, smelling their sweet fragrance. Putting water in a vase, I wonder if Alex ever brought his girlfriend flowers. Alex probably brings his dates sharp knives as gifts, in case she'll need one when she's out on a date with him. Being with Colin is so . . .


No. We're not boring. We're safe. Comfortable. Cute.

After cutting the bottoms off the roses and placing them in the vase, I find Colin chatting with my mom on the patio, something I really don't want him doing.

"Ready?" I say.

Colin flashes me his super white million-dollar smile. "Yep."

"Have her back by ten thirty," my mom calls out. As if a girl with a curfew equals high morals. It's ridiculous, but I look at Shelley and swallow my argument.

"Sure thing, Mrs. Ellis," Colin responds.

When we're in his Mercedes, I ask, "What movie are we seeing?"

"Change in plans. My dad's firm got tickets to the Cubs game. In a suite right behind home plate. Baby, we're goin' to watch the Cubbies."

"How cool. Will we be back by ten thirty?" Because I know without a doubt my mom will be waiting at the door for me.

"If they don't go into extra innings. Does your mom think you'll turn into a pumpkin or something?"

I take hold of his hand. "No. It's just that, well, I don't want to upset her."

"No offense, but your mom is strange. She's a hot MILF, but totally off the wall."

I take my hand back. "Eww! Colin, you just called my mom a MILF! I'm completely grossed out."

"Please, Brit." He glances in my direction. "Your mom looks more like your twin sister than your mother. She's hot."

She works out so much, I admit her body looks more like a thirty-year-old's than a forty-five-year-old's. But to think my boyfriend is hot for my mom is plain yuck.

At the game, Colin leads me to his dad's corporate suite at Wrigley Field. The box is crowded with people from a bunch of downtown law firms. Colin's parents greet us. His mom hugs me and gives me an air-kiss before leaving us to mingle with other people.

I watch as Colin talks with the other people in the suite. He's so at home here; he's in his element. He shakes hands, smiles wide, and laughs at everyone's jokes whether they're funny or not.

"Let's watch the game in the seats over there," he says, leading me to the suite's seats after we get hot dogs and drinks from the food bar.

"I'm hoping to get an internship at Harris, Lundstrom, and Wallace next summer," he says quietly, "so I gotta get face time with these guys."

When Mr. Lundstrom appears next to us, Colin goes into full-on business mode. I watch in admiration as he talks with Mr. Lundstrom as if they're old friends. My boyfriend definitely has a knack for schmoozing people.

"I hear you want to follow in your father's footsteps," Mr. Lundstrom says.

"Yes, sir," Colin responds, then they start talking about football and stocks and whatever else Colin brings up to keep Mr. Lundstrom talking.

Megan calls on my cell and I give her highlights of the game and we talk while I'm waiting for Colin to finish talking to Mr. Lundstrom. She tells me she had the best time at this dance club called Club Mystique that will let in teens. She insists Sierra and I will love it there.

At the seventh-inning stretch, Colin and I stand and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." We're totally out of tune, but it doesn't matter because right now it sounds as if the thousands of Cubs fans singing are as out of tune as we are. It feels good to be with Colin like this, having fun together. It makes me think I've been overcritical of our relationship.

At nine forty-five, I turn to Colin and tell him we need to start heading home even though the game isn't over.

He takes my hand in his. I think he's going to excuse himself from his conversation with Mr. Lundstrom. Instead, Mr. Lundstrom calls over Mr. Wallace.