Oh, please. What bullshit.

Perry puts his arm around her and I'm tempted to pick a fight in the middle of the gallery. "I can tell you're very deep."

Deep, my ass. He wants to get into her pants . . . pants he's never going near if I have anything to say about it.

"Alex, what do you think?" Brittany asks, turning to me.

"Well ..." I rub my chin as I stare at the painting. "I think the entire collection is worth a buck fifty, two tops."

Sierra's eyes go wide and her hand covers her mouth in shock. Doug is coughing up his drink. And Brittany? I look at my "let's see what happens" girlfriend.

"Alex, you owe Perry an apology," Brittany says.

Yeah, right after he apologizes for asking me about wasabi. Not a chance in hell. "I'm outta here," I say, then turn my back on all of them and walk out the gallery door. Me voy.

Outside, I bum a cigarette from a waitress across the street who's on break. All I can think about is how Brittany looked as she ordered me to apologize.

I do not take orders well.

Damn, I hated watching that asshole artist put his arm around my girl. I'm sure every guy wants to put his hands on her in some way, to claim they've touched her. I want to touch her, too, but I also want her to want only me. Not order me around like some puppy dog and only hold hands with me when she's not putting on a show.

This is definitely not turning out like it's supposed to.

"I saw you come out of the gallery. Only hoiteys go in there," the waitress says after I hand back her lighter.

Wasabi. Now hoiteys. Seriously, you'd think I really didn't know English. "Hoiteys?"

"Hoitey-toitey types. You know, white-collar stiffs."

"Yeah, well, I'm definitely not one of those. More like a blue collar who followed a bunch of hoiteys in there." I take a long drag, thankful for nicotine. I feel calmer immediately. Okay, so my lungs are probably shriveled up, but I have a good idea I'll probably die before my lungs decide to quit on me.

"I'm Blue-Collar Mandy," the waitress says, holding out her hand and flashing me a smile. She's got light brown hair streaked with purple. She's cute, but she's no Brittany.

I shake her hand. "Alex."

She eyes my tattoos. "I've got two. Wanna see?"

Not really. I have a feeling she got drunk one night and tattooed her chest... or ass.

"Alex!" Brittany yells my name from the front of the gallery.

I'm still smoking and trying to forget that she brought me here because I'm her dirty little secret. I don't want to be a fucking secret anymore.

My pseudo-girlfriend crosses the street. Her designer shoes click on the pavement, reminding me she's a class above. She eyes Mandy and me, the two blue collars, smoking together.

"Mandy here was about to show me her tattoos," I tell Brittany to piss her off.

"I'll bet she was. Were you going to show her yours, too?" She eyes me accusingly.

"I'm not into drama," Mandy says. She throws down her cigarette and smashes it with the tip of her gym shoe. "Good luck, you two. God knows you need it."

I take another drag while wishing Brittany didn't tempt me like she does. "Go back to the gallery, querida. I'll take a bus home."

"I thought we'd have a nice day together, Alex, in a town where nobody knows us. Don't you want to be anonymous sometimes?"

"You think it's nice havin' that little piece of shit artist thinkin' I'm the busboy? I'd rather be known as the gangbanger than the immigrant busboy."

"You didn't even give it a chance. If you'd relax and take that chip off your shoulder, you could fit in. You can be one of them."

"Everyone is plastic in there. Even you. Wake up, Miss Omigod! I don't want to be one of them. Get it? !Entiendes?"

"Loud and clear. For your information, I am not plastic. You can call it that, but we call it considerate and polite."

"In your social circles, not mine. In my circles, we tell it like it is. And never, ever order me to apologize like you're my mother. I swear, Brittany, the next time you do that we're done."

Oh, man. Her eyes are getting all glassy. She turns her back to me and I want to kick myself for hurting her.

I put out my cigarette. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be a dickhead. Well, I did. But that's 'cause I didn't feel comfortable in there."

She's not looking at me. Reaching out to rub her back, I'm thankful she doesn't shy away from me.

I continue talking. "Brittany, I love hangin' with you. Shit, when I get to school I scan the halls lookin' for you. As soon as I catch sight of these angelic streaks of sunshine," I say, fingering her hair, "I know I can make it through the day."

"I'm no angel."

"You are to me. If you forgive me, I'll go back and apologize to that artist guy."

She opens her eyes. "Really?"

"Yeah. I don't want to do it. But I will ... for you."

Her mouth curves into a small smile. "Don't do it. I appreciate you saying you'll do it for me, but you're right. His art did suck."

"There you guys are," Sierra says. "We've been looking all over for you lovebirds. Let's hit the road and get to the cabin already."

At the cabin, Doug claps his hands together. "Hot tub or movie?" he asks.

Sierra walks over to the window overlooking the lake. "I'll fall asleep if we put a movie on."

I'm sitting with Brittany on the couch in the living room, reeling over the fact that this huge house is Doug's second home. It's bigger than the one house I live in. And a hot tub? Jeez, rich people have it all. "I don't have a bathin' suit," I tell them.

"Don't worry," Brittany says. "Doug probably has one in the pool house you can wear."

In the pool house, Doug looks through a drawer searching for suits.

"There's only two here." Doug picks up a skimpy Speedo and holds it out to me. "This okay for you, big guy?"

"That wouldn't fit my right testicle. Why don't you wear it and I'll take this one," I say, reaching around Doug and grabbing a boxer-type suit. I notice the girls are gone. "Where'd they go?"

"To change. And to talk about us, I'm sure."

In the small changing room as I strip and get into the suit, I think about my life back home. Here, in Lake Geneva, it's easy to forget about home life for a while. Not having to worry about who's got my back.

When I step out of the changing room, Doug says, "She'll take a lot of shit by being with you, you know. People are already starting to talk."

"Listen, Douggie. I like that girl more than I can remember likin' anything in my life. I'm not about to give her up. I'll start carin' about what other people think when I'm six feet under."

Doug smiles and holds out his arms. "Ah, Fuentes, I think we just had a male bonding moment. Wanna hug?"

"Not on your life, white boy."

Doug slaps me on the back, then we walk to the hot tub. Despite everything, I think we do have, if not a bonding, then at least an understanding. Either way, I'm still not hugging him.

"Very sexy, babe," Sierra says, eyeing Doug's Speedo.

Doug is walking like a penguin, waddling while trying to get comfortable. "I swear to God I'm taking these off as soon as I get in the hot tub. They're choking my balls."

"TMI," Brittany chimes in, covering her ears with her palms. She's wearing a yellow bikini, leaving very little to the imagination. Does she realize she looks like a sunflower, ready to rain sunshine on all who look down upon her?

Doug and Sierra climb into the tub.

I hop into the tub and sit beside Brittany. I've never been in a hot tub before, and am not sure about hot-tub protocol. Are we going to sit here and talk, or do we break off into couples and make out? I like the second option, but Brittany looks nervous.

Especially when Doug tosses his Speedo out of the tub.

I wince. "Come on, man."

"What? I want to be able to have kids one day, Fuentes. That thing was cutting off my circulation."

Brittany hops out of the tub and pulls a towel around her. "Let's go inside, Alex."

"You guys can stay in here," Sierra says. "I'll make him put the marble bag back on."

"Forget it. You two enjoy the tub. We'll be inside," Brittany says.

When I'm out of the tub, Brittany hands me an extra towel.

I put my arm around her as we walk to the cabin. "You okay?"

"Absolutely. I was thinking you were upset."

"I'm cool. But. . ." Inside, I pick up a blown-glass figurine and study it. "Seein' this house, this life ... I want to be here with you, but I look around and realize this will never be me."

"You're thinking too much." She kneels on the carpet and pats the floor. "Come here and lie on your stomach. I know how to give Swedish massages. It'll relax you."

"You're not Swedish," I say.

"Yeah, well, neither are you. So if I do it wrong you'll never know the difference."

I lie next to her. "I thought we were gonna take this relationship slow."

"A back rub is harmless."

My eyes roam over her kick-ass bikini-covered bod. "I'll have you know I've been intimate with girls wearin' a lot more."

She slaps me on the butt. "Behave yourself."

When her hands move over my back, I let out a groan. Man, this is torture. I'm trying to behave, but her hands feel too damn good and my body has a mind of its own.

"You're tense," she says in my ear.

Of course I'm tense. Her hands are all over me. My answer is another groan.

After a few minutes of Brittany's mind-numbing massage, loud moaning, groaning, and grunting from the hot tub floats into the room. Doug and Sierra have obviously skipped the back rub portion of the evening.

"Do you think they're doing it?" she asks.

"Either that, or Doug's a very religious guy," I say, referring to the guy screaming Oh, God! every two seconds.

"Does it make you horny?" she sings quietly into my ear.

"No, but you keep massagin' me like that and you can forget about that goin' slow bullshit." I sit up and face her. "What I can't figure out is if you know you're a tease and are fuckin' with me or whether you really are innocent."

"I'm not a tease."

I cock an eyebrow, then look down at my upper thigh where she's parked her hand. She snatches it away. "Okay, I didn't mean to put my hand there. Well, I mean, not really. It just kinda . . . wh . . . what I mean to say is--"

"I like it when you stutter," I say as I pull her down next to me and show her my own version of a Swedish massage until we're interrupted by Sierra and Doug.

Two weeks later, I get word that I have a court date for my gun possession charge. I hide the info from Brittany, because she'd freak out. She'd probably go on and on about how a public defender isn't as good as a private lawyer. The thing is, I can't afford a fancy lawyer.

As I'm worrying about my fate while I'm hanging by the front doors before school, I'm suddenly sideswiped by someone and almost lose my balance.

"What the hell?" I push back.

"Sorry," the guy says nervously.

I realize the guy is none other than White Guy from the jail cell.