Sierra is the one person I'm closest to, but I lied to her about Alex. And her boyfriend, Doug, is best friends with Colin.

"How do you know I won't blab?" Isabel asks.

"I don't. But you didn't tell me stuff about Alex when I asked, so I figure you're good at keeping secrets."

"I am. So shoot."

"I don't know how to say this."

"I haven't got all day, you know."

"I kissed Alex," I blurt out.

"Alex? !Bendita! Was that before or after the Colin breakup?"

I wince. "I didn't plan it."

Isabel laughs so hard and loud, I have to take the phone away from my ear. "You sure he didn't plan it?" she asks once she can get words out.

"It just happened. We were at his house and then we were interrupted when his mom came home and saw us--"

"What? His ma saw you guys? In his house? !Bendita!" She goes off in Spanish, and I have no clue what the hell she's saying.

"I don't speak Spanish, Isabel. Help me out here."

"Oh, sorry. Carmen is gonna shit a brick when she finds out."

I clear my throat.

"I won't tell her," Isabel is quick to say. "But Alex's mom is one tough woman. When Alex dated Carmen, he kept her far away from his mama. Don't get me wrong, she loves her sons. But she's overprotective, just like most Mexican mothers. Did she kick you out?"

"No, but she pretty much called me a whore."

More laughing from the other end of the line.

"It wasn't funny."

"I'm sorry." More laughing. "I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when she walked in on you two."

"Thanks for your compassion," I say dryly. "I'm hanging up now."

"No! I'm sorry for laughing. It's just that the more we talk, the more I see you as a totally different person than I thought you were. I guess I can understand why Alex likes you."

"Thanks, I think. Remember when I told you I wouldn't let anything happen between me and Alex?"

"Yeah. Just so I get my timetable straight, that was before you kissed him. Right?" She chuckles, then says, "I'm just kidding, Brittany. If you like him, girl, go for it. But be careful, because even if I think he likes you more than he'll admit, you should keep your guard up."

"I won't stop it if something happens between me and Alex, but don't worry. I always have my guard up."

"Me, too. Well, except for the night you slept at my house. I kinda fooled around with Paco. I can't tell my friends 'cause they'd give me shit."

"Do you like him?"

"I don't know. I never thought about him that way before, but being with him was kinda nice. How was the kiss with Alex?"

"Nice," I say, thinking about how sensual it was. "Actually, Isabel, it was more than nice. It was fucking incredible."

Isabel starts laughing, and I laugh right along with her this time.


Brittany flew out of school today, following Burro Face. Before I left I saw them together in an intimate conversation by the back field. She picked him over me, which really shouldn't surprise me. When she asked me in chemistry what she should do, I should have told her to dump that pendejo. Then I'd be happy instead of pissed off. ;Es un carbon de mierda!

He doesn't deserve her. Okay, so I don't, either.

After school, I hung out at the warehouse to see if I could get information about my dad. It was no use, though. The guys who knew mi papa back then didn't have much to say except he never stopped talking about his sons. All conversation stopped when the Satin Hood sprayed the warehouse with gunfire, a sign they're out for revenge and won't stop until they get it. I don't know if I should be thankful or worried that the warehouse is in a secluded back lot behind the old railroad station. Nobody knows we're here, not even the cops. Especially not the cops.

I'm resistant to the Pop! Pop! Pop! of gunfire. In the warehouse, at the park ... I expect it. Some streets are safer than others, but here, in the warehouse, rivals know it's our sacred turf. And they expect retaliation.

It's the culture. You disrespect our turf, we disrespect yours. Nobody was hurt this time, so it's not retaliation against a killing. But there will be retaliation. They expect us to come. And we won't disappoint them.

On my side of town the circle of life is dependent on the circle of violence.

Taking the long way home after it's all clear, I find myself driving past Brittany's house. I can't help it. As soon as I cross the tracks, a cop car stops me and two uniformed guys step out.

Instead of informing me why I'm being pulled over, one of the cops orders me off my motorcycle and asks me for my license.

I hand it to him. "Why am I bein' pulled over?"

The guy who has my license examines it, then says, "You can ask questions after I ask mine. You have any drugs in your possession, Alejandro?"

"No, sir."

"Any weapons?" the other officer asks.

There's a slight hesitation before I tell the truth. "Yes."

One cop takes the gun out of his holster and points it at my chest. The other one tells me to keep my hands up, then orders me to lie on the ground while he calls for backup. Fuck. I'm busted, big time.

"What kind of weapon? Be specific."

I wince before saying, "A Glock nine millimeter." Thankfully I gave Wil the Beretta back or I'd be caught double-strapped.

My answer makes the cop a little nervous and his trigger finger shakes a bit. "Where is it?"

"On my left leg."

"Don't move. I'm going to disarm you. If you stay still, you won't get hurt."

After he removes my gun the second cop puts on rubber gloves and says to me in an authoritative voice Mrs. P. would be proud of, "You have any needles on you, Alejandro?"

"No, sir," I say.

He knees my back and handcuffs me. "Get up," he orders, hauling me to my feet, and makes me lean over the hood of the car. I feel humiliated as the guy pats me down. Shit, as much as I knew getting arrested was inevitable, I'm not ready for it. He shows me my gun. "You can assume this is why we pulled you over."

"Alejandro Fuentes, you have the right to remain silent," one of the officers recites. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. . . ."

The holding cell smells like piss and smoke. Or maybe the guys who are unlucky enough to be locked in this cage with me are the ones who smell like piss and smoke. Either way, I can't wait to get the hell out of here.

Who am I gonna call to bail me out? Paco doesn't have any money. Enrique put all his money into the auto shop. My mother will kill me if she finds out I was arrested. I lean my back against the iron bars of the cell, thinking, even though it's close to impossible in this stinkin' place.

The police call it a holding cell, but it's just a glorified way of saying "cage." Thank Dios it's the first time I've been here. And, damn it, I pray it's my last. ;Lojuro!

That thought is disturbing because I've always known I've sacrificed my life for my brothers. Why would it matter if I'm locked up for the rest of my life? Because deep down I don't want this life. I want my mother to be proud of me for being something other than a gang member. I want a future to be proud of. And I desperately want Brittany to think I'm one of the good guys.

I bang the back of my head against the steel bars, but the thoughts won't go away.

"I've seen you around Fairfield High. I go there," says a short white guy, about my age. The dork is wearing a coral-colored golf shirt and white pants, as if he came from a golf tournament with a bunch of senior citizens.

White Guy tries to look cool, but with that coral shirt. . . man, looking cool is the least of his problems.

The guy might as well have "another rich kid from the north side" tattooed on his forehead.

"What'cha in for?" White Guy asks as if it's an ordinary question between two ordinary people on an ordinary day.

"Carryin' a concealed weapon."

"Knife or gun?"

I shoot him a glare. "Does it fuckin' matter?"

"I'm just trying to make conversation," White Guy says.

Are all white people like this--talking to hear what their voice sounds like? "What are you in for?" I ask.

White Guy sighs. "My dad called the cops and told them I stole his car."

I roll my eyes. "Your old man put you in this hellhole? On purpose?"

"He thought it would teach me a lesson."

"Yeah," I say. "The lesson is that your old man's an asshole." The dad should have taught his son how to dress better instead.

"My mom'll bail me out."

"You sure?"

White Guy straightens. "She's a lawyer, and my dad's done this before. A few times. I think to piss off my mom and get her attention. They're divorced."

I shake my head. White people.

"It's true," White Guy says.

"I'm sure it is."

"Fuentes, you can make your call now," the cop on the other side of the bars barks out.

Mierda, with all of White Guy's blabberin' I still haven't decided who to call to bail me out.

It hits me like that big, fat red F on my chemistry exam. There's only one person with the money and means to get me out of this mess--Hector. The head of the Blood.

I've never called in a favor from Hector. Because you never knew when Hector would call in a favor of his own. And if I owe Hector, I owe more than money.

Sometimes in life there are no desirable choices.

Three hours later, after a judge lectures me until my ears almost bleed then sets my bail, Hector picks me up from the courthouse. He's a powerful man, with slicked-back hair darker than my own and a look about him that says he takes no shit.

I have a lot of respect for Hector because he's the guy who initiated me into the Latino Blood. He grew up in the same town as my dad, had known him since they were kids. Hector kept an eye out for me and my family after my dad died. He taught me new phrases like "second generation" and sprouted words like "legacy." I'll never forget it.

Hector thumps me on the back as we walk to the parking lot. "You got Judge Garrett. He's a tough son of a bitch. You're lucky the bail wasn't higher."

I nod, wanting nothing more than to go home. When we're driving away from the courthouse, I say, "I'll pay you back, Hector."

"Don't worry about it, man," Hector says. "Brothers help each other out. To tell you the truth, I was surprised it was your first time getting arrested. You stay cleaner than anyone in the Blood."

I stare out the window of Hector's car, the streets as calm and dark as Lake Michigan.

"You're a smart kid, smart enough to move up in the Blood," Hector says.

I would die for some of the guys in Latino Blood, but to move up? Selling drugs and guns are a few of the illegal dealings going on at the top. I like it where I am, riding the dangerous wave without actually plunging headfirst into the water.

I should be happy Hector is contemplating giving me more responsibility in the LB. Brittany and all she stands for is a fantasy.

"Think about it," Hector says as he pulls up to my house.

"I will. Thanks for bailin' me out, man," I say.