As I pull her kick-ass car into the dark library parking lot, I say, "Thanks for, you know, lettin' me kidnap you. I guess I'll see you around." Taking my keys out of my front pocket, I wonder if I'll ever be able to afford a car that isn't rusted, used, or old. After I step out of her car, I pull out Colin's picture from my back pocket and toss it on the seat I just vacated.

"Wait!" Brittany calls out as I'm walking away.

I turn around and she's right in front of me. "What?"

She smiles seductively as if she's wanting something more than a truce. Way more. Shit, is she gonna kiss me? I'm taken off guard here, which usually doesn't happen. She bites her bottom lip, as if she's contemplating her next move. I'm totally game to making out with her.

As my brain goes through every scenario, she steps closer to me.

And snatches my keys out of my hand.

"What do you think you're doin'?" I ask her.

"Getting you back for kidnapping me." She steps back and with all her might whips my keys into the woods.

"You did not just do that."

She backs up, facing me the entire time, as she moves toward her car. "No hard feelings. Payback's a bitch, ain't it, Alex?" she says, trying to keep a straight face.

I watch in shock as my chem partner gets into her Beemer. The car drives out of the lot without a jolt, jerk, or hitch. Flawless start.

I'm pissed off because I'm going to have to either crawl around in the dark woods trying to find my keys or call Enrique to pick me up.

I'm also amused. Brittany Ellis bested me at my own game.

"Yeah," I say to her even though she's probably a mile away and can't hear me. "Payback is a bitch."

CHAPTER 25 Brittany

The sound of my sister's heavy breathing beside me is the first thing I hear as early morning sunlight pours into her room. I'd gone to Shelley's room and laid next to her for hours, watching her sleep peacefully before drifting off myself.

When I was little, I would hurry to my sister's room whenever there was a thunderstorm. Not to comfort Shelley, but so she could comfort me. I would hold Shelley's hand and somehow my fears would fade.

Watching my older sister sleep soundly, I can't believe my parents want to send her away. Shelley is a big part of who I am; the thought of living without her seems so--wrong. Sometimes I feel Shelley and I are connected in a way few people understand. Even when our parents can't figure out what Shelley is trying to say, or why she's so frustrated, I usually know.

That's why it devastated me when she pulled my hair. I never really thought she'd do it to me.

But she did.

"I won't let them take you away," I say softly to my sleeping sister. "I'll always protect you."

I ease myself off Shelley's bed. There is no way I can spend time with Shelley without her suspecting I'm upset. So I get dressed and leave the house before she wakes up.

I confided in Alex yesterday and the sky didn't fall. I actually felt better after telling him about Shelley. If I can do it with Alex, surely I can try it with Sierra and Darlene.

As I sit in front of Sierra's house in my car, my thoughts turn to my life.

Nothing is going right. Senior year is supposed to be a blast--easy and fun. So far it's been anything but. Colin is pressuring me, a guy in a gang is more than my chemistry partner, and my parents are going to send my sister far from Chicago. What else can go wrong?

I notice movement coming from Sierra's second-story window. First legs, then a butt. Oh, God, it's Doug Thompson trying to jump to the trellis.

Doug must see me, because Sierra's head pops out of the window. She waves and motions for me to wait.

Doug's foot still hasn't reached the trellis. Sierra is holding onto his hand to steady him. He finally reaches the thing, but the flowers distract him and he falls, flinging his body in all directions. He's fine, though, I realize after he gives Sierra a thumbs-up before jogging off.

I wonder if Colin would climb trellises for me.

Sierra's front door opens three minutes later and she steps out in her underwear and tank top. "Brit, what are you doing here? It's seven o'clock. In the morning. You do realize it's a teacher in-service and we have no school."

"I know, but my life is spinning out of control."

"Come inside and we'll talk," she says, opening my car door. "I'm freezing my butt off here. Oh, why don't the Chicago summers last longer?"

Inside, I take off my shoes so I won't wake up her parents.

"Don't worry, they left for the health club an hour ago."

"Then why was Doug escaping out your window?"

Sierra winks. "You know, to keep the relationship exciting. Guys love adventure."

I follow Sierra into her spacious bedroom. It's decorated in fuchsia and apple green, the colors her mother's decorator picked out for her. I plunk myself down on the extra bed as Sierra calls Darlene. "Dar, come over. Brit's in crisis mode."

Darlene, in her pj's and slippers, arrives a few minutes later since she lives only two houses down.

"Okay, spill," Sierra demands when we're all together.

Suddenly, with all eyes on me, I'm not so sure this sharing thing is such a good idea. "It's not really anything."

Darlene straightens. "Listen, Brit. You got me out of bed at seven a.m. Dish the dirt."

"Yeah," Sierra says. "We're your friends. If you can't share with your friends, who can you share with?"

Alex Fuentes. But I'd never tell them that.

"Why don't we watch old movies," Sierra suggests. "If Audrey Hepburn doesn't get you to spill your guts, nothing will."

Darlene groans. "I can't believe you got me up for a non-crisis and old movies. You guys seriously need to get a life. The least you can do is give me gossip. Anyone have any?"

Sierra leads us to the living room and we all sink into the cushions on her parents' sofa. "I heard Samantha Jacoby was found kissing someone in the custodian closet on Tuesday."

" Whoop-de-doo," Darlene says, totally unimpressed.

"Did I mention it was Chuck, one of the custodians?"

"Now that is good gossip, Sierra."

Is that how it's going to be if I share anything, turning my misery into gossip for everyone to laugh about?

In Sierra's living room four hours, two movies, popcorn, and a tub of Ben & Jerry's Confection Connection ice cream later, I'm feeling better. Maybe it was Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina, but somehow I think everything is possible. Which makes me think about . . .

"What do you guys think of Alex Fuentes?" I ask.

Sierra pops a piece of popcorn in her mouth. "What do you mean 'what do we think of him?'"

"I don't know," I say, unable to stop thinking about the intense, undeniable attraction that is always between us. "He's my chemistry partner."

"And . . . ?" Sierra urges, waving her hand in the air as if saying, "So what's your point?"

I grab the remote control and pause the movie. "He's hot. Admit it."

"Eww, Brit," Darlene says, pretending to stick her finger down her throat and gagging.

Sierra says, "Okay, so I admit he's cute. But he's not someone I would ever date. He's, you know, a gang member."

"Half the time he comes to school high," Darlene chimes in.

"I sit right next to him, Darlene, and I've never noticed him high at school."

"Are you kidding, Brit? Alex does drugs before school, and in the guys' bathroom when he ditches study hall. And I'm not just talking about pot. He's into the hard stuff," Darlene states like it's fact.

"Have you seen him do drugs?" I challenge.

"Listen, Brit. I don't have to be in the room with him to know he snorts or shoots up. Alex is dangerous. Besides, girls like us don't mix with Latino Bloods."

I lean into the plush cushions of the couch. "Yeah, I know."

"Colin loves you," Sierra says, changing the subject.

Love, I sense, is a far cry from what Colin felt for me at the beach, but I don't even want to go there.

Three times my mom tries to contact me. First on my cell, although turning it off didn't deter her because she called Sierra's house twice.

"Your mom's coming over if you don't talk to her," Sierra says, the phone dangling from her fingers.

"If she does, I'm leaving."

Sierra hands me the phone. "Me and Darlene are going outside so you can have some privacy. I don't know what this is all about, but talk to her."

I hold the phone to my ear. "Hello, Mother."

"Listen, Brittany, I know you're upset. We finalized the plans about Shelley last night. I know it's hard on you, but she's been more and more frustrated lately."

"Mom, she's twenty years old and gets upset when people can't understand her. Don't you think that's normal?"

"You're going to college next year. It's not fair to keep her home anymore. Stop being so selfish."

If Shelley is being sent away because I'm going to college, it is my fault. "You're going to do this no matter how I feel about it, aren't you?" I ask.

"Yes. It's a done deal."


When Brittany walks into Mrs. P.'s class on Friday I'm still thinking about how I'm going to get back at her for throwing my keys into the woods last weekend. It took me forty-five minutes to find the suckers, and all the while I was cursing Brittany. Okay, so I give her props for dishing it out. I also have her to thank for helping me talk about the night of my papa's death. Because of it, I've called older OG's in the Blood, asking them if they know who might have had a grudge against my dad.

Brittany has been wary this whole week. She's waiting for me to play a joke on her, to get her back for tossing my keys into the woods. After school, as I'm at my locker picking books to take home, she storms up to me wearing her sexy pom uniform.

"Meet me in the wrestling gym," she orders.

Now I can do two things: meet her like she told me to or leave the school. I take my books and enter the small gym. Brittany is standing, holding out her keychain without keys dangling from it.

"Where have my keys magically disappeared to?" she asks. "I'm going to be late for the game if you don't tell me. Ms. Small will kick me off the squad if I'm not at the game."

"I tossed them somewhere. You know, you should really get a purse that has a zipper. You never know when someone will reach in and grab somethin'."

"Glad to know you're a klepto. Wanna give me a hint as to where you've hidden them?"

I lean against the wall of the wrestling gym, thinking about what people would think if they caught us in here together. "It's in a place that's wet. Really, really wet," I say, giving her a clue.

"The pool?"

I nod. "Creative, huh?"

She tries to push me into the wall. "Oh, I'm going to kill you. You better go get them."

If I didn't know her better, I'd think she was flirting with me. I think she likes this game we have going on. "Mamacita, you should know me better than that. You're all on your own, like I was when you left me in the library parking lot."

She cocks her head, gives me sad eyes, and pouts. I shouldn't concentrate on her pouty lips, it's dangerous. But I can't help it.

"Show me where they are, Alex. Please."