Shit. If I hadn't gotten arrested in the first place, I wouldn't owe this debt to Hector.

"I know you won't disappoint me. By the way, how's your mother? I haven't seen her in a while."

"She's fine," I say, wondering what mi'ama has to do with this conversation.

"Tell her I said hello, will ya?"

What the hell does that mean?

Hector opens the door, motions for Chuy to follow him, and leaves me to stew over it.

I sit back, staring at the closed door, and wonder if I have it in me to do a drug deal. If I want to keep my family safe, my choice has been made for me.

CHAPTER 37 Brittany

"I can't believe you broke up with Colin." Sierra is painting her nails on my bed after dinner. "I hope you don't live to regret your decision, Brit. You two have been together for so long. I thought you loved him. You broke his heart, you know. He called Doug crying."

I sit up. "I want to be happy. Colin doesn't make me happy anymore. He admitted to cheating on me over the summer with some girl he met. He had sex with her, Sierra."

"What? I can't believe it."

"Trust me. Colin and I were over when he went away for the summer. It just took me a while to realize we couldn't fake it anymore."

"So, did you move on to Alex? Colin thinks you're mixing more than just test tubes with your chem partner."

"No," I lie. Even though Sierra is my best friend, she holds the belief there's a definite social divide. While I want to tell her the truth, I can't. Not now.

Sierra closes the bottle of nail polish and huffs. "Brit, I'm your best friend whether you want to believe it or not. You're lying to me. Admit it."

"What do you want me to say?" I ask.

"Try the truth, for once. Geez, Brit. I understand you don't want Darlene to know shit because she's gone off the deep end emotionally. And I can understand you not wanting the triple M-factor knowing everything. But this is me. Your best friend. You know, the one who knows about Shelley and who has seen your mom go off on you."

Sierra grabs her purse and shoves it onto her shoulder.

I don't want her mad at me, but I want her to know where I'm coming from. "What if you want to tell Doug stuff? I don't want to put you in a situation where you have to lie to him."

Sierra gives me a sneer that resembles the one I use all the time. "Screw you, Brit. Thanks for making me feel like my best friend doesn't trust me." Before she leaves my room she turns back and says, "You know how people have selective hearing? You have selective disclosure. I saw you having a major conversation with Isabel Avila today in the hall. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were sharing secrets with her." She throws up her hands. "Okay, so I admit I was jealous that my best friend is obviously sharing stuff with another friend and not me. When you realize I'm rooting like hell for you to be happy, call me."

She's right. But this thing with Alex is so new, and I'm feeling vulnerable about it. Isabel is the only one who knows both me and Alex, so I went to her. "Sierra, you're my best friend. You know that," I say, hoping she knows it's the truth. I might have trust issues, but that doesn't negate the fact that she's the closest friend I have.

"Then start acting like it," she says before leaving.

I wipe a bead of sweat slowly dripping from my brow as I drive to meet Alex for the wedding.

I picked a cream-colored, fitted sundress with spaghetti straps. My parents will be home when I get back, so I put a change of clothes inside my workout bag. My mom will see the Brittany she expects to see when I get home--a perfect daughter. Who cares if it's a facade as long as it keeps her happy. Sierra was right; I do have selective disclosure.

My car rounds the corner, riding the path to the body shop. When I spot Alex leaning on his motorcycle waiting for me in the parking lot, my pulse skips a beat.

Oh, boy. I'm in trouble.

Gone is his ever-present bandanna. Alex's thick black hair rests on his forehead, daring to be swept back. Black pants and a black silk shirt have replaced his jeans and T-shirt. He looks like a young Mexican daredevil. I can't help but smile as I park next to him.

"Querida, you look like you've got a secret."

I do, I think as I step out of my car. You.

"Dios mio. You look ... preciosa."

I turn in a circle. "Is this dress okay?"

"Come here," he says, pulling me against him. "I don't want to go to the wedding anymore. I'd rather have you all to myself."

"No way," I say, running a slow finger along the side of his jaw.

"You're a tease."

I love this playful side of Alex. It makes me forget all about those demons.

"I came to see a Latino wedding, and I expect to see one," I tell him.

"And here I thought you were comin' to be with me."

"You've got a big ego, Fuentes."

"That's not all I've got." He backs me against my car, his breath warming my neck more than the midday sun. I close my eyes and expect his lips on mine, but instead I hear his voice. "Give me your keys," he says, reaching around and taking them from my hand.

"You're not going to throw them into the bushes, are you?"

"Don't tempt me."

Alex opens my car door and slides into the driver's seat.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" I ask, confused.

"No. I'm parkin' your car in the shop so it doesn't get jacked. This is an official date. I'm drivin'."

I point to his motorcycle. "Don't think I'm getting on that thing."

His left eyebrow raises a fraction. "Why not? Julio's not good enough for you?"

"Julio? You named your motorcycle Julio?"

"After my great uncle who helped my parents move here from Mexico."

"I like Julio just fine. I just don't want to ride on him wearing this short dress. Unless you want everyone riding behind us to see my undies."

He rubs his chin, thinking about it. "Now that would be a sight for sore eyes."

I cross my arms over my chest.

"I'm jokin'. We're takin' my cousin's car." We get in a black Camry parked across the street.

After driving a few minutes he pulls a cigarette from a pack lying on the dashboard. The click of the lighter makes me cringe.

"What?" he asks, the lit cigarette dangling from his lips.

He can smoke if he wants. This might be an official date, but I'm not his official girlfriend or anything. I shake my head. "Nothing."

I hear him exhale, and the cigarette smoke burns my nostrils more than my mom's perfume. As I lower my window all the way, I suppress a cough.

When he stops at a stoplight, he looks over at me. "If you've got a problem with me smokin', tell me."

"Okay, I've got a problem with you smoking," I tell him.

"Why didn't you just say so?" he says, then smashes it into the car's ashtray.

"I can't believe you actually like it," I say when he starts driving again.

"It relaxes me."

"Do I make you nervous?"

His gaze travels from my eyes to my breasts and down to where my dress meets my thighs. "In that dress you do."


If I keep looking at her long legs I'm gonna have an accident. "How's that sister of yours?" I ask, changing the subject.

"She's waiting to beat you again at checkers."

"Is that right? Well, tell her I was goin easy on her. I was tryin' to impress you."

"By losing?"

I shrug. "It worked, didn't it?"

I notice her fidgeting with her dress as if she needs to fix it to impress me. Wanting to ease her anxiety, I slide my fingers down her arm before capturing her hand in mine.

"You tell Shelley I'll be back for a rematch," I say.

She turns to me, her blue eyes sparkling. "Really?"


During the drive, I try and make small talk. It doesn't work. I'm not a small talk kind of guy. It's a good thing Brittany seems content without talking.

Before long I park in front of a small, two-story brick house.

"Isn't the wedding at a church?"

"Not for Elena. She wanted to get married at her parents' house."

I rest my hand on the small of her back as we walk up to the house. Don't ask me why I feel a need to claim her as mine. Maybe deep down I am a Neanerthal.

When we enter the house, Mariachi music blares from the backyard and people fill up almost every inch of space. I check out Brittany's reaction, wondering if she feels like she's been magically transported to Mexico. My family doesn't live in big houses with swimming pools like she's used to.

Enrique and a bunch of my other cousins yell greetings to us. They all speak Spanish, which would seem normal except that my date only speaks English. I'm used to being kissed to death by my aunts and given hearty slaps on the backs by my uncles. I'm not sure she is, though. I nudge Brittany closer to me as a sign that I haven't forgotten her, and attempt to introduce her to my family but give up when I realize there's no way she'll remember all their names.

";Ese!" comes a voice from behind us.

I turn to Paco. "What's up?" I say, slapping my friend on the back. "Brittany, I'm sure you've seen mi mejor amigo around school. Don't worry, he knows not to tell anyone he saw you here."

"My lips are sealed," he says, then like a dork pretends to lock his mouth and toss the key away.

"Hi, Paco," she says, laughing.

Jorge sidles up to us, wearing a white tuxedo and a red rose in his lapel.

I slap my cousin-to-be on the back. "Yo, man, you really do clean up nice."

"You don't look too bad yourself. You gonna introduce me to your friend, or not?"

"Brittany, this is Jorge. He's the poor guy ... I mean, lucky guy, marrying my cousin Elena."

Jorge hugs her. "Any friend of Alex's is a friend of ours."

"Where's the bride?" Paco asks.

"She's upstairs in her parents' bedroom, crying."

"From happiness?" I guess.

"No, man. I went in there to give her a kiss and now she's thinkin' of callin' it off, says it's bad luck to see the groom before the wedding," Jorge adds, shrugging.

"Good luck," I say. "Elena is superstitious. She'll probably make you do some crazy shit to make the bad luck go away."

As Paco and Jorge contemplate what Elena will make him do to erase the bad luck, I take Brittany's hand and lead her outside. A live band is playing. Even though we're pochos, we definitely keep our traditions and culture close. Our food is spicy, our families are big and close, and we like to dance to music that makes our bodies move.

"Is Paco your cousin?" Brittany asks.

"No, he just likes to think he is. Carlos, this is Brittany," I say when we reach my brother.

"Yeah, I know," Carlos says. "Remember I saw you two swapping spit."

Brittany is stunned into silence.

"Watch your mouth," I say, slapping Carlos on the back of the head.

Brittany puts her hand on my chest. "It's okay, Alex. You don't have to protect me from everyone."

Carlos takes on a cocky stance. "That's right, bro. You don't have to protect her. Well, maybe except from Mama."