"Come and fight me, geek," Sam calls out.

I step forward, getting in the middle. "Sam, what's your problem?"

"This pendejo took my parkin' spot," Sam says, pointing past me to White Guy.

"So what? Did you find another spot?"

Sam stands stiffly, ready to kick White Guy's ass. Sam can do it, no problem.

"Yeah, I found another spot."

"Then leave the guy alone. I know him. He's cool."

Sam raises an eyebrow. "You know this guy?"

"Listen," I say, taking one look at White Guy and am glad he's wearing a blue button-down instead of his coral shirt. It's still geek city, but at least I can keep a straight face when I say, "This guy's been in jail more times than me. He might look like a complete pendejo, but underneath that fucked-up hair and lame shirt he's a complete badass."

"You're fuckin' with me, Alex," Sam says.

I step out of the way and shrug. "Don't say I didn't warn you."

White Guy steps forward, attempting to look tough. I bite my lower lip to keep from laughing and cross my arms around my chest as if waiting for the ass-kicking to start. My LB buddies also wait, ready to see Sam get his ass kicked by a white geek.

Sam looks from Alex to White Guy and back. "If you're fuckin' with me, Alex--"

"Check his police record. Grand theft auto is his specialty."

Sam contemplates his next move. White Guy doesn't wait. He walks over to me, holding out his fist. "You need anything, Alex, you know who's got your back."

My fist connects with White Guy's. He's gone a second later and I'm thankful nobody noticed his fist shaking in fear.

I catch White Guy at his locker between first and second period. "Did you mean it? That if I needed anythin' you'd help?"

"After this morning, I owe you my life," White Guy says. "I don't know why you stuck up for me, but I was scared shitless."

"That's rule number one. Don't let them see you scared shitless."

White Guy snorts. I guess it's his laugh--either that or he has a really bad sinus infection. "I'll try and remember that the next time a gang member threatens my life." He holds out his hand for me to shake. "I'm Gary Frankel."

I grab his hand and give it a shake. "Listen, Gary," I say. "My court date is next week and I'd rather not rely on a public defender. You think your mom can help?"

Gary smiles. "I think so. She's really good. If it's your first offense, she could probably get you a short probation."

"I can't afford--"

"Don't worry about the money, Alex. Here's her card. I'll tell her you're a friend of mine and she'll do it pro bono."

As Gary walks down the hallway, I think of how funny it is that the most unlikely person sometimes becomes your ally. And how a blond girl can make you think futures are something to look forward to.

CHAPTER 45 Brittany

After the game on Saturday afternoon, a game we won due to Doug's touchdown pass with four seconds to go in the game, I'm talking to Sierra and the M-factors on the side of the field. We're trying to figure out where we want to go celebrate the victory.

"How about Lou Malnati's?" Morgan calls out.

Everyone agrees, because it's the best pizza place in town. Megan is on a diet and is craving their special house salad, so it's a done deal.

As we're figuring out the logistics, I look over at Isabel talking to Maria Ruiz. I walk over to them. "Hey, guys," I say. "You want to come to Lou Malnati's with us?"

Maria's eyebrows are furrowed in confusion. Isabel's aren't, though. "Sure," Isabel says.

Maria looks from Isabel to me, then back. She says something to Isabel in Spanish, then says she'll meet us at the restaurant.

"What did she say?"

"She wanted to know why you'd ask us to hang with you and your friends."

"What did you tell her?"

"I told her that I'm one of your friends, although as a hint my friends call me Isa, not Isabel."

I lead her over to the rest of my friends, then look over at Sierra, who admitted to being jealous of my friendship with Isabel not too long ago. But instead of acting cold, she smiles at Isabel and asks her to show her how she does the double back flip in one of our routines. It just reinforces why she's my best friend. Madison seems as stunned as Maria was when I inform everyone that Maria and Isabel will be joining us at Lou Malnati's, but she doesn't say anything.

Maybe, just maybe, this is a small step toward what Dr. Aguirre calls "bridging the gap." I'm not naive enough to think I can change Fairfield overnight, but over the past weeks my perceptions of certain people have changed. I hope their perceptions of me have changed, too.

At the restaurant, I'm sitting next to Isabel. A bunch of guys from the football team have come in, so the restaurant has been taken over by Fairfield High students. Darlene walks in with Colin. He's got his arm around her as if they're a couple.

Sierra, on the other side of me, says, "Tell me she doesn't have her hand in his back pocket. That is so lame."

"I don't care," I tell her, easing any worries she might have about me being upset. "If they want to date, all the more power to them."

"She's only doing it because she wants everything you had. It's a competition thing with her. First taking your position on the squad, now putting her claws into Colin. Next thing you know she'll want to change her name to Brittany."

"Very funny."

"You say that now," she says, then moves in close and whispers, "it won't be so funny if she wants Alex next."

"Now that's not funny."

Doug walks in and Sierra waves him over. He can't squeeze into a chair so Sierra gives up her seat then sits on his lap. They start making out, and that's my cue to turn away and talk to Isabel.

"How are things progressing with you-know-who?" I ask, knowing I can't bring up Paco's name because she doesn't want Maria to know she has the hots for him.

She sighs. "They're not."

"Why not? Didn't you have the talk with him like I told you to?"

"No. He's been acting like a pendejo, completely ignoring the fact that we got together that one night. I'm thinking he doesn't bring it up because he doesn't want it to go farther."

I think of me breaking up with Colin and going for it with Alex. Every time I break out of what is expected of me and finally do what feels right, I feel stronger. "Take a risk, Isa. I guarantee it's worth it."

"You just called me Isa."

"I know. Is that okay?"

She pushes my shoulder playfully. "Yeah, Brit. It's fine."

Talking to Isa about Paco makes me feel adventurous, and feeling adventurous makes me think of Alex. As soon as we're done eating, and everyone starts leaving, I call Alex on my cell as I'm walking to my car. "Do you know where Club Mystique is?"


"Meet me there tonight at nine."

"Why? What's up?"

"You'll see," I say, then hang up but realize Darlene is right behind me. Did she hear me talking to Alex?

"Hot date tonight?" she asks.

That answers my question. "What have I done to you to make you hate me so much? We're friends one minute, and the next I feel you're plotting against me."

Darlene shrugs, then flips her hair back. The gesture alone is a sign I can no longer consider her my friend. "I guess I'm sick of living in your shadow, Brit. It's time to give up your reign. You've played Fairfield High's princess for so long. It's time to give someone else a chance to be in the spotlight."

"You can have the spotlight. Enjoy it," I tell her. She has no clue I never wanted it in the first place. If anything, I just used the spotlight to enhance the show I put on for everyone else.

When I get to Club Mystique at nine, Alex sneaks up behind me outside. I turn around and wrap my arms around his neck.

"Whoa, girl," he says, taken aback. "I thought we were keepin' this thing between us a secret. I hate to tell you, but a bunch of north siders from Fairfield are right over there. And they're starin' at us."

"I don't care. Not anymore."


"You only live once."

He seems to like my answer, because he takes my hand in his and leads me to the back of the line. It's cold outside, so he opens his leather jacket and envelopes me in his warmth while we wait to get in.

I look up at him, our bodies pressed together. "Are you going to dance with me tonight?" I ask.

"Hell, yeah."

"Colin never wanted to dance with me."

"I'm not Colin, querida, and never will be."

"Good. I've got you, Alex. I realize it's all I need and I'm ready to share it with the world."

Inside the club, Alex immediately heads for the dance floor with me. I ignore the gawking stares from Fairfield students from my side of town as I pull Alex close to me and we move as one to the beat.

We move together as if we've been a couple forever, every movement in sync with each other. For the first time I'm not afraid of what people think of me and Alex together. Next year, in college, it won't matter who came from what side of town.

Troy, a boy I danced with the last time I came to Club Mystique, taps me on the shoulder as the music makes the dance floor vibrate. "Who's the new stud?" he asks.

"Troy, this is my boyfriend, Alex. Alex, this is Troy."

"Hey, man," Alex says as he holds out his hand and quickly shakes Troy's.

"I have a feeling this guy won't make the same mistake the other one did," Troy says to me.

I don't answer, because I feel Alex's hands around my waist and back and it feels so right to have him here with me. I think he liked me calling him my boyfriend, and it felt so good to say it out loud. I lean my back against his chest and close my eyes, letting the rhythm of the music and the movement of our bodies mold together.

After we've been dancing awhile and need a breather, we walk off the dance floor. I whip out my cell and say, "Pose for me."

The first picture I take is of him trying to pose like a cool bad boy. It makes me laugh. I take another one before he can strike a pose this time.

"Let's take one of the both of us," he says, pulling me close. I press my cheek against his while he takes my cell and puts it as far away as he can reach, then freezes this perfect moment with a click. After the picture is taken, he pulls me into his arms and kisses me.

Leaning against Alex, I scan the crowd. On the first floor, right by the balcony, is Colin--the last person I thought would be here. Colin hates it here; he hates to dance.

His angry eyes meet mine, then he makes a big show of kissing the girl standing next to him. It's Darlene. And she's kissing him back with all she's got while he grabs her butt and grinds against her. She knew I'd be here tonight with Alex, and she obviously planned this.

"You want to go?" Alex asks as he catches sight of Colin and Darlene.

I turn to face him and once again I'm breathless just looking at his beautiful, strong features. "Nope. But it's so hot in here. Take off your jacket."

He hesitates before saying, "I can't."

"Why not?"

He winces.