Rules of Attraction(2)

By: Simone Elkeles

I take a long look at my brother. He’s definitely changed; I sensed it from the minute I saw him. He might look like Alex Fuentes, but I can tell he’s lost that fighting spirit he once possessed. Now that he’s in college, he thinks he can play by the rules and make the world a shinier place to live. It’s amazing how quickly he’s forgotten that not too long ago we lived in the slums of the Chicago suburbs. Some parts of the world can’t shine, no matter how much you try and polish off the dirt.

“¿Y Mamá?” Alex asks.

“She’s fine.”

“And Luis?”

“The same. Our little brother is almost as smart as you, Alex. He thinks he’s gonna be an astronaut like José Hernández.”

Alex nods like a proud papa, and I think he really does believe Luis can live his dream. The two of them are delusional . . . both my brothers are dreamers. Alex thinks he can save the world by creating cures for diseases and Luis thinks he can leave the world to explore new ones.

As we turn onto the highway, I see a wall of mountains in the far distance. It reminds me of the rough terrain in Mexico.

“It’s called the Front Range,” Alex tells me. “The university is at the base of the mountains.” He points off to the left. “Those are the Flatirons, ’cause the rocks are flat like ironing boards. I’ll take you there sometime. Brit and I take walks there when we want to get away from campus.”

When he glances at me, I’m looking at my brother like he’s got two heads.

“What?” he asks.

Is he kidding?—¿Me está tomando los pelos? “I’m just wondering who you are and what the hell you did with my brother. My brother Alex used to be a rebel, and now he’s talkin’ about mountains, ironin’ boards, and takin’ walks with his girlfriend.”

“You’d rather I talked about getting drunk and fucked up?”

“Yes!” I say, acting like I’m excited. “And then you can tell me where I can get drunk and fucked up, ’cause I won’t last long if I don’t get some kind of illegal substance in my system,” I lie. Mi'amá probably told him she suspects I’m into drugs, so I might as well play the part.

“Yeah, right. Save the bullshit for Mamá, Carlos. I don’t fall for it any more than you do.”

I put my feet up on the dash. “You have no clue.”

Alex shoves them down. “Do you mind? It’s Brittany’s car.”

“You are seriously whipped, man. When are you gonna dump that gringa and start bein’ a normal college guy who hooks up with a bunch of girls?” I ask him.

“Brittany and I don’t date other people.”

“Why not?”

“It’s called being boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“It’s called bein’ a panocha. It’s not natural for a guy to be with one girl, Alex. I’m a free agent and I plan to stay one forever.”

“Just so we’re clear, Señor Free Agent, you’re not screwin’ anyone in my apartment.”

He might be my older brother, but our father has been dead and buried a long time. I don’t want or need his bullshit rules. It’s time I set some of my own. “Just so you’re clear, I plan on doin’ whatever the fuck I want while I’m here.”

“Just do us both a favor and listen to me. You might actually learn somethin’.”

I give a short laugh. Yeah, right. What am I gonna learn from him, how to fill out college applications? Do thermal chemistry experiments? I don’t plan on doing either of those.

We’re both silent as we drive for another forty-five minutes, the mountains getting closer and closer with each mile. We pass right through the University of Colorado at Boulder campus. Redbrick buildings jut out of the landscape and college students with backpacks are scattered everywhere. Does Alex think he can beat the odds and actually find a high-paying job so he won’t be poor the rest of his life? Fat chance of that happening. People will take one look at him and his tattoos and throw his ass out the door.

“I’ve got to be at work in an hour, but I’ll get you settled in first,” he says as he pulls into a parking space.