The look on Paco's face tells me he knows otherwise.

"I've tried to reason with him," Paco says. "This thing . . . it's with big-time dealers. Somethin' doesn't feel right about it, Brittany. Hector's makin' Alex do this and for the life of me I don't know why. Why Alex?"

"What can I do?" I ask.

"Tell Alex to find a way out. If anyone can get out of it, it's him."

Tell him? Alex resents being told to do anything. I can't imagine he would agree to do a drug deal.

"Brittany, dinner is already cold!" my mother yells from the kitchen window. "And your father just got home. Let's sit down as a family for once."

The sound of crashing dishes brings my mother back in the house. Shelley's brilliant move, no doubt.

But it really isn't Shelley's job to keep me from telling my parents the truth. "Wait here," I say. "Unless you want to witness an Ellis family argument."

Paco rubs his hands together. "This has got to be better than my family fights."

I walk into the kitchen and give my dad a peck on the cheek.

"Who's your friend?" my dad asks warily.

"Paco, this is my dad. Dad, this is my friend Paco."

Paco says, "Hey." My dad nods. My mom grimaces.

"Paco and I need to go."

"Where?" my dad asks, totally confused.

"To see Alex."

"No you're not," my mom says.

My dad holds up his hands, clueless. "Who's Alex?"

"That other Mexican boy I was telling you about," my mom says tightly. "Don't you remember?"

"I don't remember anything these days, Patricia."

My mom stands, her plateful of food in hand, and tosses it into the sink. The dish breaks and the food flies all over. "We've given you everything you want, Brittany," my mother says. "A new car, designer clothes--"

My patience snaps. "That's totally superficial, Mom. Sure, on the outside everyone sees you guys as successful, but as parents you really suck. I'd give you both a C minus on parenting and you're lucky it isn't Mrs. Peterson grading you or you'd flunk. Why are you afraid of being seen as having problems like the rest of the world?"

I'm on a roll and can't stop. "Listen, Alex needs my help. One of the things that makes me who I am is the loyalty I have to people I hold close to my heart. If that hurts or scares you, I'm sorry," I say.

Shelley makes a commotion and we all turn to her. "Brittany," comes a computer voice from the PCD attached to my sister's wheelchair. Shelley's fingers are busy punching in the words: "Good. Girl."

I wrap my fingers around my sister's hand before I talk to my parents again. "If you want to kick me out, or disown me for being who I am, then do it and get it over with."

I'm done being scared. Scared for Alex, Shelley, and myself. It's time to face all my fears, or I'll lose myself in grief and guilt my entire life. I'm not perfect. It's time the entire world realizes it, too.

"Mom, I'm going to see the social worker at school."

My mom scrunches up her face in disgust. "That's asinine. It'll be in your school records the rest of your life. You don't need a social worker."

"Yes, I do." I steel myself and add, "You do, too. We all do."

"Listen to me, Brittany. If you walk out that door . . . don't come back."

"You're being rebellious," my dad interjects.

"I know. And it feels so good." I grab my purse. It's all I have, unless you include the clothes on my back. I put on a huge smile and hold my hand out to Paco. "Ready to go?"

He doesn't miss a beat as he takes my hand. "Yep." When we're in his car he says, "You are one tough chick. I never thought you had the fight in you." Paco drives me to the darkest part of Fairfield. He leads me to a large warehouse on a secluded back road. As if Mother Nature is sending us a warning, menacing dark clouds fill the sky and a chill fills the air.

A burly guy stops us. "Who's the snow girl?" he asks.

Paco says, "She's clean."

The guy eyes me up and down suggestively before opening the door. "She starts sniffin' around and it'll be on your head, Paco," he warns.

All I want to do is take Alex away from here, away from what feels like danger all around. "Hey," a gravelly voice from beside me calls out. "If you want something to pick you up, come to me, si?"

"Follow me," Paco says, grabbing my arm and pulling me straight ahead through a corridor. Voices come from the opposite side of the warehouse . . . Alex's voice.

"Let me go to him myself," I say.

"That's not such a hot idea. Wait until Hector's done talkin' to him," Paco says, but I don't listen.

I walk toward Alex's voice. He's talking with two other guys. They're obviously having a serious conversation. One of the guys pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it to Alex. That's when Alex notices me.

Alex says something to the guy in Spanish before folding the paper and shoving it into his jeans pocket. His voice is hard and tough, like his expression right now. "What the hell are you doin' here?" he asks me.

"I just--"

I can't finish my sentence because Alex grabs hold of my upper arm. "You just are leavin' here this instant. Who the fuck brought you here?"

I'm trying to think of a response when Paco appears out of the darkness.

"Alex, please. Paco might have brought me here, but it was my idea."

"You culero," Alex says, letting go of me while facing Paco.

"Isn't this your future, Alex?" Paco asks. "Why are you ashamed to show your novia your home away from home?"

Alex throws a punch, connecting with Paco's jaw. Paco goes down. I run to him, then give Alex a sharp, warning look. "I can't believe you did that!" I scream. "He's your best friend, Alex."

"I don't want you seein' this place!" A trickle of blood streams down Paco's mouth. "You shouldn't have brought her," Alex says, calmly this time. "She doesn't belong here."

"Neither do you, bro," Paco says quietly. "Now take her away. She's seen enough."

"Come with me," Alex orders, holding out his hand.

Instead of coming to him, I cup Paco's face with my hands and inspect the damage. "My God, you're bleeding," I say, starting to freak out. Blood is enough to make me sick. Blood and violence always push me over the edge.

Paco gently pushes my hand away. "I'll be fine. Go with him."

A voice booms from the darkness, speaking Spanish to Alex and Paco.

I shiver at the authority in the guy's voice. I wasn't scared before, but I definitely am now. The guy had been talking to Alex earlier. He's dressed in a dark suit with a stark white dress shirt underneath. I saw him briefly at the wedding. His jet black hair is slicked back and his complexion is dark. One look and I know this is someone very powerful in the Latino Blood. Two large, mean-looking guys stand on either side of him.

"Nada, Hector," Alex and Paco say in unison.

"Take her somewhere else, Fuentes."

Alex takes my hand and hurries me out of the warehouse. When we're finally outside, I exhale deeply.


"Let's get out of here. You and me, mi amor. !Vamos!"

I breathe a sigh of relief as I straddle Julio and Brittany hops on behind me. She wraps her arms around my waist, holding on tight as I speed out of the parking lot.

We fly through the streets; which eventually become a blur. I don't even stop when rain starts pouring down.

"Can we stop now?" she yells through the deafening storm.

I park under an old abandoned bridge by the lake. Heavy rain pounds the cement surrounding us, but we have our own secluded place.

Brittany hops to the ground. "You're a stupid jerk," she says. "You can't deal drugs. It's dangerous and stupid, and you promised me. You'll risk going to jail. Jail, Alex. You may not care, but I do. I won't let you ruin your life."

"What do you want to hear?"

"Nothing. Everything. Say something so I don't stand here feeling like a complete idiot."

"The truth is . . . Brittany, look at me."

"I can't," she says as she stares at the pouring rain. "I'm so tired of thinking of every scary scenario."

I pull her against me. "Don't think, muneca. Everything will work itself out."


"No buts. Trust me." My mouth closes over hers. The smell of rain and cookies eases my nerves.

My hand braces the small of her back. Her hands grip my soaked shoulders, urging me on. My hands slide under her shirt, and my fingers trace her belly button.

"Come to me," I say, then lift her until she's straddling me over my bike.

I can't stop kissing her. I whisper how good she feels to me, mixing Spanish and English with every sentence. I move my lips down her neck and linger there until she leans back and lets me take her shirt off. I can make her forget about the bad stuff. When we're together like this, hell, I can't think of anything else but her.

"I'm losing control," she admits, biting her lower lip. I love those lips.

"Mamacita, I've already lost it," I say, grinding against her so she knows exactly how much control I've lost.

She moves her hips in a slow rhythm against me, an invitation I don't deserve. My fingertips graze her mouth. She kisses them before I slowly slide my hand down her chin to her neck and in between her breasts.

She catches my hand. "I don't want to stop, Alex."

I cover her body with mine.

I can easily take her. Hell, she's asking for it. But God help me if I don't grow a conscience.

It's that loco bet I made with Lucky. And what my mom said about how easy it is to get a girl pregnant.

When I made the bet, I had no feelings for this complex white girl. But now . . . shit, I don't want to think about my feelings. I hate feelings; they're only good for screwing up someone's life. And may God strike me down right now because I want to make love to Brittany, not fuck her on my motorcycle like some cheap whore.

I move my hands away from her cuerpo perfecto, the first sane thing I've done tonight. "I can't take you like this. Not here," I say, my voice hoarse from emotion overload. This girl was going to gift me with her body, even though she knows who I am and what I'm about to do. The reality is hard to swallow.

I expect her to be embarrassed, maybe even mad. But she curls into my chest and hugs me. Don't do this to me, I want to say. Instead I wrap my arms around her and hold on tight.

"I love you," I hear her say so softly it might have been her thoughts.

Don't, I'm tempted to say. ;No! ;No!

My gut twists and I hold her tighter. Dios mio, if things were different I'd never give her up. I burrow my face in her hair and fantasize about stealing her away from Fairfield.

We stay that way for a long time, long after the rain stops and reality sets in. I help her off the motorcycle so she can put her shirt back on.

Brittany looks up at me, a hopeful look on her face. "Are you going to do this drug deal?"

I get off Julio and walk over to the end of the tunnel. Sticking my hand in the water still dripping down the sides, I let the cold water fall through my fingers.