"So, starting right now everything is going to be p-e-r-f-e-c-t."

The bell rings, which is not exactly a bell because the student body voted last year to replace bells with music between classes. Right now they're playing "Summer Lovin'" from Grease. Sierra starts walking down the hall. "I'll make sure you have ap-e-r-f-e-c-t funeral. With flowers and everything."

"Who died?" a voice from behind me asks.

I turn around. It's Colin, blond hair bleached from the summer sun and a grin so large it takes up almost his whole face. I wish I had a mirror to see if my makeup is smudged. But surely Colin will date me even if it is, won't he? I run up and give him the biggest hug.

He holds me tight, kisses me lightly on the lips, and pulls back. "Who died?" he asks again.

"Nobody," I answer. "Forget about it. Forget everything except being with me."

"It's easy when you look so damn hot." Colin kisses me again. "Sorry I haven't called. It's been so crazy unpacking and everything."

I smile up at him, glad our summer apart hasn't changed our relationship. The solar system is safe, at least for now.

Colin drapes his arm around my shoulders as the front doors to the school open. Alex and his friends burst through as if they're here to hijack the school.

"Why do they even come to school?" Colin mutters low so only I can hear. "Half of them'll probably drop out before the year is over, anyway."

My gaze briefly meets Alex's and a shiver runs down my spine.

"I almost hit Alex Fuentes's motorcycle this morning," I tell Colin once Alex is out of hearing range.

"You should have."

"Colin," I chide.

"At least it would have been an exciting first day. This school is boring as shit."

Boring? I almost got in a car accident, was flipped off by a girl from the south side, and was harassed by a dangerous gang member outside the school's front doors. If that was any indication of the rest of senior year, this school will be anything but boring.


I knew I'd be called into the new principal's office at some point during the year, but I didn't expect it to be on the first day of school. I heard Dr. Aguirre was hired because of his hard-ass personality at some high school in Milwaukee. Someone must have pegged me as a ringleader, 'cause it's my ass sitting here instead of another Latino Blood's.

So here I am, pulled out of gym so Aguirre can puff up his chest and ramble on about tougher school rules. I detect him feeling me out, wondering how I'll react, as he threatens me, ". . . and this year I've hired two full-time armed security guards, Alejandro."

His eyes focus on me, trying to intimidate. Yeah, right. I can tell right off that while Aguirre might be Latino, he knows nothing about how our streets work. The next thing I know he'll be talking about how he grew up poor, just like me. He's probably never even driven through my side of town. Maybe I should offer to give him a tour.

He stands in front of me. "I promised the superintendent as well as the school board I'd personally be responsible for rooting out the violence that has plagued this school for years. I won't hesitate to suspend anyone who ignores school rules."

I haven't done anything besides have a little fun with the pom-pom diva and already this guy is talking suspension. Maybe he heard about my suspension last year. That little incident got me kicked out for three days. It wasn't my fault. . . entirely. Paco had this crazy theory about cold water affecting white guys' dicks differently than Latinos'. I was arguing with him in the boiler room after he'd shut down the hot water heaters when we were caught.

I had nothing to do with it but got blamed all the same. Paco attempted to tell the truth, but our old principal wouldn't listen. Maybe if I fought more he would have listened. But what's the use in fighting for a lost cause?

It's clear Brittany Ellis is responsible for me being in here today. You think her jerk of a boyfriend'll ever get called into Aguirre's office? No way. The dude is an idolized football player. He can ditch class and start fights and Aguirre will probably still kiss his ass. Colin Adams is always pushing me, knowing he can get away with it. Every time I've been about to retaliate, he's found a way to escape or rush to where teachers were in abundance . . . teachers who were just waiting for me to fuck up.

One of these days. . . .

I look up at Aguirre. "I'm not startin' any fights." I might finish one, though.

"That's good," Aguirre says. "But I heard about you harassing a female student in the parking lot today."

Almost getting run over by Brittany Ellis's shiny new Beemer is my fault? For the past three years I've managed to avoid the rich bitch. I heard last year she got a C on her report card but a little call to the school from her parents got it changed to an A.

It would hurt her chances of getting into a good college.

Screw that shit. If I got a C, mi'ama would smack me upside the head and nag me to study twice as hard. I've worked my ass off to get good grades, even though I've gotten interrogated more often than not about my means of getting the answers. As if I'd cheat. It's not about getting into college. It's about proving I could get in ... if my world was different.

The south siders might be seen as dumber than the north siders, but that's bullshit. So we're not as rich or obsessed with material possessions or getting into the most expensive and prestigious universities. We're in survival mode most of the time, always having to watch our backs.

Probably the hardest part of Brittany Ellis's life is deciding which restaurant to dine at each night. The girl uses her smokin' bod to manipulate everyone who comes in contact with her.

"Care to share with me what happened in the parking lot? I'd like to hear your side," Aguirre says.

Not happening. I learned long ago that my side doesn't matter. "The thing this mornin' . . . total misunderstandin'," I tell him. Brittany Ellis's misunderstanding that two vehicles can't fit in one spot.

Aguirre stands and leans over his polished, spotless desk. "Let's try not making misunderstandings a habit, okay, Alejandro?"



"I go by Alex," I say. What he knows about me is in my school file, a file so biased it's probably ten inches thick.

Aguirre gives me a nod. "All right, Alex. Get ready for sixth period. But I have eyes at this school, and I'm watching your every move. I don't want to see you back in my office." Just as I get up, he puts a hand on my shoulder. "Just so you know, my goal is for every student in this school to succeed. Every student, Alex. Including you, so whatever biases you have about me you can throw them out the window. Me entiendes?"

"Si. Entiendo," I say, wondering how much I can believe him. In the hallway, a sea of students are rushing to their next class. I have no clue where I'm supposed to be and I'm still in my gym clothes.

In the locker room after I change, a song plays on the loudspeaker indicating it's now sixth period. I pull the schedule out of my back pocket. Chemistry with Mrs. Peterson. Great, another hard-ass to deal with.

CHAPTER 5 Brittany

I turn on my cell and call home before chemistry to see how my sister is doing. Baghda isn't too happy because Shelley was freaking out about the way her lunch tasted. Apparently Shelley swiped her bowl of yogurt onto the floor in protest.

Was it too much to hope that my mom would take a day off from hanging out at the country club to transition Baghda? Summer is officially over and I can't be there to pick up where the caretakers usually leave off.

I should be focusing on school. Getting into my dad's alma mater, Northwestern, is my main goal so I can go to a college close to home and be there for my sister. After giving Baghda some suggestions I take a deep breath, paste on a smile, and walk into class.

"Hey, babe. I saved you a seat." Colin motions to the stool next to him.

The room is arranged with rows of high lab tables for two. This means I'll sit next to Colin for the rest of the year and we'll do the dreaded senior chemistry project together. Feeling foolish for thinking things wouldn't be okay between us, I slip onto the stool and pull out my heavy chem book.

"Hey, look. Fuentes is in our class!" a guy calls out from the back of the room. "Alex, over here, venpa'ca."

I try not to stare as Alex greets his friends with pats on the back and handshakes too complicated to reproduce. They all say "ese" to each other, whatever that means. Alex's presence catches every eye in the classroom.

"I hear he was arrested last weekend for possession of meth," Colin whispers to me.

"No way."

He nods and his eyebrows go up. "Way."

Well, the information shouldn't surprise me. I hear most weekends Alex spends drugged out, passed out, or doing some other illegal activity.

Mrs. Peterson closes the door to the classroom with a bang and all eyes move from the back of the room, where Alex and his friends are sitting, to the front where Mrs. Peterson is standing. She has light brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. The woman is probably in her late twenties, but her glasses and perpetual stern expression make her look way older. I hear she's tough now because her first year teaching the students made her cry. They didn't respect a teacher who was young enough to be their older sister.

"Good afternoon and welcome to senior chemistry." She sits on the edge of her desk and opens a folder. "I appreciate you picking your own seats, but I make the seating arrangements . . . alphabetically."

I groan along with the rest of the class, but Mrs. Peterson doesn't miss a beat. She stands in front of the first lab table and says, "Colin Adams, take the first seat. Your partner is Darlene Boehm."

Darlene Boehm is co-captain of the varsity pom squad with me. She flashes me an apologetic look as she slides onto the stool next to my boyfriend.

Down the list Mrs. Peterson goes, students reluctantly moving to their assigned seats.

"Brittany Ellis," Mrs. Peterson says, pointing to the table behind Colin. I unenthusiastically sit on the stool at my assigned place.

"Alejandro Fuentes," Mrs. Peterson says, pointing to the stool next to me.

Oh my God. Alex . . . my chemistry partner? For my entire senior year! No way, no how, SO not okay. I give Colin a "help me" look as I try to avoid a panic attack. I definitely should have stayed at home. In bed. Under the covers. Forget not being intimidated.

"Call me Alex."

Mrs. Peterson looks up from her class list and regards Alex above the glasses on her nose. 'Alex Fuentes," she says, before changing his name on her list. "Mr. Fuentes, take off that bandanna. I have a zero tolerance policy in my class. No gang-related accessories are allowed to enter this room. Unfortunately, Alex, your reputation precedes you. Dr. Aguirre backs my zero tolerance policy one hundred percent ... do I make myself clear?"

Alex stares her down before sliding the bandanna off his head, exposing raven hair that matches his eyes.

"It's to cover up the lice," Colin mutters to Darlene, but I hear him and Alex does, too.

"Vete a la verga," Alex says to Colin, his hard eyes blazing. "Collate el hocico."

"Whatever, dude," Colin says, then turns around. "He can't even speak English."