Rules of Attraction(3)

By: Simone Elkeles

I know he got a job working at some auto-body shop to help him pay off a shitload of school and government loans.

“This is it,” he says as he points to the building in front of us. “Tu casa.”

This round eight-story eyesore of a building resembling a giant corncob is the farthest thing from being a home, but whatever. I pull my duffel out of the trunk and follow Alex inside.

“I hope this is the poor side of town, Alex,” I say. “ ’Cause I get hives around rich people.”

“I’m not livin’ in luxury, if that’s what you mean. It’s subsidized student apartments.”

We ride the elevator to the fourth floor. The hallway smells like stale pizza, and a bunch of stains are scattered across the carpet. Two hot girls in workout clothes pass us. Alex smiles at them. From their dreamy reaction I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly kneeled down and kissed the ground he walks on.

“Mandi and Jessica, this is my brother Carlos.”

“Hel-lo, Carlos . . .” Jessica scans me up and down— I have definitely reached horny college central. And I’m definitely feelin’ it. “Why didn’t you tell us he was a hottie?”

“He’s in high school,” Alex warns them.

What is he, my cock-blocker? “A senior,” I blurt out, hoping that’ll lessen the blow that I’m not a college guy. “I’ll be eighteen in a couple months.”

“We’ll throw you a birthday party,” Mandi says.

“Cool,” I say. “Can I have you two as my presents?”

“If Alex doesn’t mind,” Mandi says.

Alex walks away and weaves a hand through his hair. “I’m gonna get myself in trouble if I get into this discussion.”

This time, the girls laugh. Then they jog down the hall, but not before looking back and waving bye.

We go in Alex’s apartment. He’s definitely not living in the lap of luxury. A twin bed with a thin black fleece blanket is off to the side of the room, a table and four chairs are on the right, and a kitchen so small that two people would have a hard time fitting in together is by the front door. This isn’t even a one-bedroom apartment. It’s a studio. A small studio.

Alex points to a door next to his bed. “There’s the bathroom. You can put your stuff in the closet across from the kitchen.”

I toss my duffel in the closet and walk farther into the apartment. “Um, Alex . . . where do you expect me to sleep?”

“I borrowed a blow-up bed from Mandi.”

“Está buena— she’s cute.” I check out the room again. In our house back in Chicago I shared a much smaller room with Alex and Luis. “Where’s the TV?” I ask.

“Don’t have one.”

Shit. That’s not good. “What the hell am I supposed to do when I’m bored?”

“Read a book.”

“Estás chiflado, you’re crazy. I don’t read.”

“Startin’ tomorrow you do,” he says as he opens the window to let in some fresh air. “I’ve already had your transcripts sent. They’re expectin’ you at Flatiron High tomorrow.”

School? My brother is talkin’ about school? Man, that’s the last thing a seventeen-year-old guy wants to think about. I thought he’d at least give me a week to adjust to living in the U.S. again. Time to change course. “Where do you stash your weed?” I say, knowing I’m pushing his patience to the limit. “You should prob’ly tell me now so I don’t have to go rummagin’ through your place tryin’ to find it.”

“Don’t have any.”

“Okay. Then who’s your dealer?”

“You don’t get it, Carlos. I don’t do that shit anymore.”

“You said you work. Don’t you make money?”

“Yeah, so I can afford to eat, go to college, and send whatever’s left to Mamá.”

Just as that news is sinking in, the apartment door opens. I recognize my brother’s blond girlfriend immediately, her keys to his apartment and her purse in one hand and a big brown paper bag in the other. She looks like a Barbie doll come to life. My brother takes the bag and kisses her. They might as well be married. “Carlos, you remember Brittany.”