I let her sweat it out a minute before I give in. By now most of the school is deserted. Half of the students are on their way to the football game. The other half is glad they're not on their way to the football game.

We walk to the pool. The lights are off, but sunlight is still shining through the windows, Brittany's keys are where I threw 'em--in the middle of the deep end. I point to the shiny pieces of silver under the water. "There they are. Have at it."

Brittany stands with her hands on her short skirt, contemplating how she's going to get them. She struts over to the long stick hanging on the wall that's used to pull drowning people from the water. "Piece of cake," she tells me.

But as she sticks the pole into the water, she finds out it's not a piece of cake. I suppress a laugh as I stand at the edge of the pool and watch her attempt the impossible.

"You can always strip and go in naked. I'll watch to make sure nobody comes in."

She walks up to me, the pole gripped firmly in her fingers. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"Uh, yeah," I say, stating the obvious. "I have to warn you, though. If you have granny undies on, you'll blow my fantasy."

"For your information, they're pink satin. As long as we're sharing personal info, are you a boxers or briefs guy?"

"Neither. My boys go free, if you know what I mean." Okay, I don't let my boys go free. She'll just have to figure that out herself.

"Gross, Alex."

"Don't knock it till you try it," I tell her, then walk toward the door.

"You're leaving?"

"Uh . . . yeah."

"Aren't you going to help me get the keys?"

"Uh . . . nope." If I stay, I'll be tempted to ask her to ditch the football game to be with me. I'm definitely not ready to hear the answer to that question. Toying with her I can handle. Showing my true colors like I did the other day made me take my guard down. I'm not about to do that again. I push the door open after taking one last glance at Brittany, wondering if leaving her right now makes me an idiot, a jerk, a coward, or all of the above.

At home, when I'm far from Brittany and her car keys, I look for my brother. I promised myself I'd talk to Carlos this week and I've delayed it long enough. Before I know it he'll be jumped in and get the ritual beating as the initiation into the Latino Blood just like I got.

I find Carlos in our bedroom, in the process of shoving something under his bed.

"What was that?" I ask.

He sits on his bed with his arms crossed. "Nada."

"Don't give me that nada bullshit, Carlos." I push him aside and look under his bed. Sure enough, a shiny .25 Beretta is staring back at me. Mocking me. I pull it out and hold it in my hand. "Where'd you get this?"

"None of your business."

This is the first time in my life I've seriously wanted to scare the crap out of Carlos. I itch to stick that gun in between his eyes and show him what it's like for gang members all the time, to feel threatened and unsure of what day will end up being your last. "I'm your older brother, Carlos. Se nos fue mi Papa, so that leaves me to knock some sense into you." I look at the gun. From the weight I can tell it's loaded. Geez, if it accidentially went off, Carlos could be killed. If Luis found it. . . shit, this is bad.

Carlos attempts to stand but I push him back on the bed.

"You go around strapped," he complains. "Why can't I?"

"You know why. I'm a gangbanger. You're not. You're gonna study, go to college, and have a life."

"You think you've got our lives all planned out, don't you?" Carlos spits out. "Well, I've got a plan, too."

"It better not include gettin' jumped in."

Carlos is silent.

I think I've already lost him and my body is as tense as a steel rod. I can prevent the jumping in from happening but only if Carlos is willing to let me intervene. I look at the picture of Destiny above Carlos's bed.

He met her this summer in Chicago when we watched fireworks from Navy Pier on July Fourth. Her family lives in Gurnee and ever since they met he's been obsessed with her. They talk on the phone every night. She's smart, she's Mexican, and when she eyed me and my tattoos when Carlos tried to introduce us she got so scared her eyes darted around as if she'd get shot just being within five feet of me.

"You think Destiny'll want to date you if you're a strapped gang member?" I ask.

No response, which is good. He's thinking.

"She'll dump your ass as soon as you can say 'twenty-five caliber.'"

Carlos's gaze wanders to the picture of her on his wall.

"Carlos, ask her where she's goin' to college. I'll bet she has a plan. If you want the same plan, it's doable."

My brother looks up at me. He's waging a war within himself, choosing between what he knows is coming easy to him--the gang life--and the harder things he wants to go for, like Destiny.

"Stop hangin' around Wil. Find some new friends, and join the soccer team at school or somethin'. Start actin' like a kid and let me take care of the rest."

I stuff the Beretta in the waistband of my jeans and walk out of the house, heading for the warehouse.

CHAPTER 27 Brittany

I was late to the football game. After Alex left, I stripped down to my bra and underwear and jumped into the pool to grab my keys. Thanks to Alex, I got a demotion. Darlene, the co-captain of the pom squad, is now officially the captain. It took me a half hour to dry my hair and reapply my makeup in the girl's changing room. Ms. Small was p.o.'d I was late to the game. She told me I should feel lucky I got a demotion instead of being suspended from the squad.

After the game, I lay down on the living room couch with my sister. My hair still smells like chlorine, but I'm too tired to care. As I watch reality shows after dinner, my eyes start to close.

"Brit, wake up. Colin is here," my mom says, shaking me.

I look up at Colin, standing over me. He puts his hands up. "You ready?"

Oh, man. I forgot about Shane's party, which was planned months ago. I'm so not in the mood. "Let's ditch it and stay home."

"Are you kidding? Everyone is expecting us to be there. There's no way you're missing the biggest bash of the year." He looks at my sweatpants and T-shirt that says GET CHECKED, which I got when I did the Breast Cancer Walk last year. "I'll wait while you get changed. Hurry up. Why don't you wear that black minidress I love?"

I drag myself to my closet to change. In the corner, lying next to my DKNY tank top, is Alex's bandanna. I washed it last night, but I close my eyes and bring it to my nose to see if his scent lingers in the fabric. All I smell is laundry detergent and find myself disappointed. I'm not ready to analyze my feelings right now, especially since Colin is downstairs waiting for me.

Slipping on the black minidress and fixing my hair and makeup takes a while. I hope Colin isn't pissed I'm taking so long. I have to get it right. My mom will surely comment on my appearance in front of him.

Back downstairs, I see Colin sitting on the edge of the couch ignoring Shelley. I think he's nervous around her.

My mom "the inspector" walks over to me and feels my hair. "Did you condition?"

Does she mean before or after my swim in the pool to retrieve my keys? I push her hand away. "Mom, please."

"You look amazing," Colin says, sidling up beside me.

Thankfully Mom backs away, obviously pleased and comforted by Colin's approval even if my hair isn't perfect.

During the ride to Shane's house, I study my boyfriend of two years. The first time we kissed was during a spin-the-bottle game at Shane's house our sophomore year. We made out in front of everyone, Colin taking me in his arms and kissing me for a full five minutes. Yes, the onlookers timed it. We've been a couple ever since.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" he asks, glancing my way.

"I was remembering the first time we kissed."

"At Shane's place. Yeah, we sure put on a show for everyone, didn't we? Even the seniors back then were impressed."

"Now we're the seniors."

"And we're still the golden couple, babe," he says, pulling into Shane's driveway. "Let the party start, the golden couple has arrived!" Colin yells when we walk into the house.

Colin joins the guys while I search for Sierra. I find her in the living room. Sierra hugs me, then motions to a spot on the sofa next to her. A bunch of girls from the pom squad are here, including Darlene.

"Now that Brit's here," Sierra says, "we can start playing."

"Who would you rather kiss?" Madison asks.

Sierra leans back on the couch. "Let's start easy. Pug or poodle?"

I laugh. "You mean as in dog?"


"Okay," I say. Poodles are cute and cuddly, but Pugs are more masculine and have that don't-mess-with-me look. As much as I like cute and cuddly, a poodle won't cut it. "Pug."

Morgan scrunches up her face. "Ew! Poodle for sure. Pugs have that pushed-in nose and snorting problem. Not conducive to kissing."

"We're not actually going to try it, dumbass," Sierra says.

"I've got one," I say. "Coach Garrison or Mr. Harris the math teacher?"

Every girl says in unison, "Garrison!"

"He is such a hottie," Megan says.

Sierra giggles. "I hate to break the news, but I hear he's gay."

"No way," Megan says. "You sure? Well, even if he is, I'd still pick him over Harris any day."

"I've got one," Darlene chimes in. "Colin Adams or Alex Fuentes?"

All eyes turn to me. Then Sierra nudges me, giving me a hint we've got company--Colin. Why did Darlene set me up like that?

Everyone's eyes now focus on Colin, standing behind me.

"Oops. Sorry," Darlene says, covering her slip of the tongue.

"Everyone knows Brittany would choose Colin," Sierra pipes in as she pops a pretzel into her mouth.

Megan sneers. "Darlene, what's wrong with you?"

"What? It's only a game, Megan."

"Yeah, but we're playing a different game than you're playing."

"What's that supposed to mean? Just because you don't have a boyfriend--"

Colin walks past us and heads for the patio. After giving Darlene a pissed-off look and silently praising Megan for telling her off, I follow him outside.

I find Colin sitting on one of the lounge chairs by the pool.

"Did you have to fucking hesitate when Darlene asked that question?" he says to me. "You made a fool out of me back there."

"Yeah, well, I'm not very happy with Darlene right now."

He gives a short laugh. "Don't you get it? It's not Darlene's fault."

"You think it's mine? As if I asked for Alex to be my partner."

He stands. "You didn't protest too much."

"You want to fight, Colin?"

"Maybe I do. You don't even know how to be a girlfriend."

"How can you say that? Who took you to the hospital when you sprained your wrist? Who ran onto the field and kissed you after your first touchdown? Who came to visit you every day last year when you got chicken pox?"

I got driving lessons against my will. I passed out drunk in Alex's arms, but I didn't know what I was doing. Nothing happened with Alex. I'm innocent, even if I have thoughts that aren't.