"What'cha talkin' about?" Paco asks, joining us with a plate of food from the cafeteria.

"I bet Alex my car for his motorcycle he can't get into Brittany Ellis's pants by Thanksgiving."

"You loco, Alex?" Paco says. "Makin a bet like that is suicide."

"Lay off, Paco," I warn. It isn't suicide. Stupid, maybe. But not suicide. If I could handle hot Carmen Sanchez, I can handle vanilla cookie Brittany Ellis.

"Brittany Ellis is out of your league, amigo. You might be a pretty boy, but you're one hundred percent Mexicano and she's as white as Wonder Bread."

A junior named Leticia Gonzalez walks by us. "Hi, Alex," she says, flashing me a smile before sitting with her friends. While the other guys drool over Leticia and talk to her friends, Paco and I are left alone by the tree.

Paco nudges me. "Now she's a bonita Mexicana, and definitely in your league."

My eye isn't on Leticia, it's on Brittany. Now that the game's on, I'm focusing on the prize. It's time to start flirting, but no bullshit come-on lines will work with her. Somehow I think she's used to those from her boyfriend and other assholes trying to get into her pants.

I decide on a new tactic, one she won't expect. I'm going to keep riffling her feathers until I'm all she thinks about. And I'll start next period when she's forced to sit next to me. Nothing like a little foreplay in chemistry class to spark things up.

"Carajo!" Paco says, throwing down his lunch. "They think they can buy a U-shaped shell, stuff it, and call it a taco, but those cafeteria workers wouldn't know taco meat from a piece of shit. That's what this tastes like, Alex."

"You're makin' me sick, man," I tell him.

I stare uncomfortably at the food I brought from home. Thanks to Paco everything looks like mierda now. Disgusted, I shove what's left of my lunch into my brown paper bag.

"Want some of it?" Paco says with a grin as he holds out the shitty taco to me.

"Bring that one inch closer to me and you'll be sorry," I threaten.

"I'm shakin' in my pants."

Paco wiggles the offending taco, goading me. He should seriously know better.

"If any of that gets on me--"

"What'cha gonna do, kick my ass?" Paco sings sarcastically, still shaking the taco. Maybe I should punch him in the face, knocking him out so I won't have to deal with him right now.

As I have that thought, I feel something drop on my pants. I look down even though I know what I'll see. Yes, a big blob of wet, gloppy stuff passing as taco meat lands right on the crotch of my faded jeans.

"Fuck," Paco says, his face quickly turning from amusement to shock. "Want me to clean it off for you?"

"If your fingers get anywhere close to my dick, I'm gonna personally shoot you in the huevos," I growl through clenched teeth.

I flick the mystery meat off my crotch. A big, greasy stain lingers. I turn back to Paco. "You got ten minutes to get me a new pair of pants."

"How the hell am I s'posed to do that?"

"Be creative."

"Take mine." Paco stands and brings his fingers to the waistband of his jeans, unbuttoning right in the middle of the courtyard.

"Maybe I wasn't specific enough," I tell him, wondering how I'm going to act like the cool guy in chem class when it looks like I've peed in my pants. "I meant, get me a new pair of pants that will fit me, pendejo. You're so short you could audition to be one of Santa Claus's elves."

"I'm toleratin' your insults because we're like brothers."

"Nine minutes and thirty seconds."

It doesn't take Paco more than that to start running toward the school parking lot.

I seriously don't give a crap how I get the pants; just that I get 'em before my next class. A wet crotch is not the way to show Brittany I'm a stud.

I wait at the tree while other kids throw away their lunches and head back inside. Before I know it, music starts playing through the loudspeakers and Paco is nowhere in sight. Great. Now I have five minutes to get to Peterson's class. Gritting my teeth, I walk to chemistry with my books strategically placed in front of my crotch, with two minutes to spare. I slide onto the stool and push it as close to the lab table as possible, hiding the stain.

Brittany walks into the room, her sunshine hair falling down the front of her chest, ending in perfect little curls that bounce when she walks. Instead of that perfection turning me on, it makes me want to mess it all up.

I wink at her when she glances at me. She huffs and pulls her stool as far away from me as possible.

Remembering Mrs. Peterson's zero-tolerance rule, I pull my bandanna off and place it in my lap directly over the stain. Then I turn to the pom-pom chick sitting next to me. "You're gonna have to talk to me at some point."

"So your girlfriend can have a reason to beat me up? No thanks, Alex. I'd rather keep my face the way it is."

"I don't have a girlfriend. You want to interview for the position?" I scan her from top to bottom, focusing on the parts she relies on so heavily.

She curls her pink-frosted top lip and sneers at me. "Not on your life."

"Mujer, you wouldn't know what to do with all this testosterone if you had it in your hands."

That's it, Alex. Tease her into wanting you. She'll take the bait.

She turns away from me. "You're disgusting."

"What if I said we'd make a great couple?"

"I'd say you were an idiot."

CHAPTER 9 Brittany

Right after I call Alex an idiot, Mrs. Peterson calls the class to attention. "You and your partner will pick a project from this hat," she announces. "They are all equally challenging and will require meeting with your partner outside of class."

"What about football?" Colin interjects. "No way I'm missing practice."

"Or poms," Darlene chimes in before I can say the same thing.

"Schoolwork comes first. It's up to you and your partner to find a time that works for both of you," Mrs. Peterson says as she stands in front of our table and holds out the hat.

"Yo, Mrs. P. ... is one of them a cure for multiple sclerosis?" Alex asks with his cocky attitude that's setting my nerves on edge. " 'Cause I don't think there's enough time in the school year to complete that project."

I can see that big D on my report card right now. The Northwestern admissions counselor won't care that it was my chemistry partner who wanted to make a joke out of our project. The guy doesn't care about his own life, why should he care about chemistry class? The thought of Alex controlling the grade I receive in this class is overwhelming me. Grades to my parents are a reflection of your worth. Needless to say, a C or D means you're worthless.

I reach into the hat and pull out a little white slip of paper. I open it slowly while I bite my lower lip in anticipation. In bold letters I read HAND WARMERS.

"Hand warmers?" I question.

Alex leans over and reads the paper with a confused look on his face. "What the fuck are hand warmers?"

Mrs. Peterson shoots Alex a warning glare. "If you'd like to stay after school, I have another blue detention slip on my desk with your name already on it. Now, either ask the question again without using foul language or join me after school."

"That'd be cool to hang with you, Mrs. P., but I'd rather spend the time studyin' with my chem partner," Alex responds, then has the nerve to wink at Colin, "so I'll rephrase the question. What exactly are hand warmers?"

"Thermal chemistry, Mr. Fuentes. We use them to warm our hands."

Alex has this big, cocky grin as he turns to me. "I'm sure we can find other things to warm."

"I hate you," I say loud enough for Colin and the rest of the class to hear. If I sit here and let him get the best of me, I'll probably hear my mom tsk'ing in my head about reputations meaning everything.

I know the class is watching our interaction, even Isabel, who thinks Alex isn't as bad as everyone thinks he is. Can't she see him for what he is, or is she blinded by his chiseled face and popular status among their friends?

Alex whispers, "There's a thin line between love and hate. Maybe you're confusing your emotions."

I scoot away from him. "I wouldn't bet on it."

"I would."

Alex's gaze turns toward the door to the classroom. Through the window, his friend is waving to him. They're probably going to ditch class.

Alex grabs his books and stands.

Mrs. Peterson turns around. "Alex, sit down."

"I got to piss."

The teacher's eyebrows furrow and her hand goes to her hip. "Watch your language. And the last time I checked, you don't need your books in order to go to the restroom. Put them back on the lab table."

Alex's lips are tight, but he places the books back on the table.

"I told you no gang-related items in my class," Mrs. Peterson says, staring at the bandanna he's holding in front of him. She holds out her hand. "Hand it over."

He glances at the door, then faces Mrs. Peterson. "What if I refuse?"

"Alex, don't test me. Zero tolerance. You want a suspension?" She wiggles her fingers, signaling to hand the bandanna over immediately or else.

Scowling, he slowly places the bandanna in her hand.

Mrs. Peterson sucks in her breath when she snatches the bandanna from his fingers.

I screech, "Ohmygod!" at the sight of the big stain on his crotch.

The students, one by one, start laughing.

Colin laughs the loudest. "Don't sweat it, Fuentes. My great-grandma has the same problem. Nothing a diaper won't fix."

Now that hits home because at the mention of adult diapers, I immediately think of my sister. Making fun of adults who can't help themselves isn't funny because Shelley is one of those people.

Alex sports a big, cocky grin and says to Colin, "Your girlfriend couldn't keep her hands out of my pants. She was showin' me a whole new definition of hand warmers, compa."

This time he's gone too far. I stand up, my stool scraping the floor.

"You wish," I say.

Alex is about to say something to me when Mrs. Peterson yells, "Alex!" She clears her throat. "Go to the nurse and ... fix yourself. Take your books, because afterward you'll be seeing Dr. Aguirre. I'll meet you in his office with your friends Colin and Brittany."

Alex swipes his books off the table and exits the classroom while I ease back onto my stool. While Mrs. Peterson is trying to calm the rest of the class, I think about my short-lived success in avoiding Carmen Sanchez.

If she thinks I'm a threat to her relationship with Alex, the rumors that are sure to spread today could prove deadly.


Oh, this is rich. Peterson and Aguirre on one side of Aguirre's office, Little Miss Perfecta and her dickhead boyfriend on the other ... and me standing by myself. Nobody on my side, that's for sure.

Aguirre clears his throat. "Alex, this is the second time in two weeks you're in my office."

Yep, that about sums it up. The guy is an absolute genius.

"Sir," I say, playing the game because I'm sick of Little Miss Perfecta and her boyfriend controlling the entire fucking school. "There was a little mishap during lunch involving grease and my pants. Instead of missin' class, I had a friend get me these as a replacement." I gesture to my current jeans Paco managed to snatch from my house. "Mrs. Peterson," I say, turning to my chem teacher, "I wouldn't let a little stain keep me from your brilliant lecture."