Rules of Attraction(7)

By: Simone Elkeles

After I drop off Tuck at his house, it takes me fifteen minutes to get to McConnell’s Auto Body. I pull my car into the shop and find Alex, one of the mechanics, bent over the engine of a VW Beetle. Alex was one of my dad’s students. Last year, after a study session, my dad found out that Alex works on cars. He told Alex about the 1972 Monte Carlo I’ve been restoring, and Alex has been helping me get parts for it ever since.

“Hey, Kiara.” He wipes his hands on a shop cloth, and asks me to wait while he gets my radio. “Here it is,” he says, opening the box. He pulls out the radio and removes it from the bubble wrap. Wires are sticking out of the back like spindly legs, but it’s just perfect. I know I shouldn’t be so excited about a radio, but the dash wouldn’t be complete without it. The one that came with my car never worked and the front plastic was cracked, so Alex has been looking online to find me an authentic replacement.

“I didn’t get a chance to test it, though,” he says as he wiggles each wire to make sure the connections are solid. “I had to pick up my brother at the airport, so I couldn’t come in early.”

“Is he visiting from Mexico?” I ask.

“He’s not visitin’. He’ll be a senior at Flatiron startin’ tomorrow,” he says as he fills out an invoice. “You go there, right?”

I nod.

He puts the radio back in the box. “Do you need help installin’ it?”

I didn’t think so before I saw it up close, but now I’m not so sure. “Maybe,” I tell him. “Last time I soldered wires, I messed them up.”

“Then don’t pay for it now,” he says. “If you’ve got time tomorrow after school, stop by and I’ll put it in. That’ll give me time to test the thing.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

He looks up from the invoice and taps his pen on the counter. “I know this is gonna sound loco, but can you help show my brother around school? He doesn’t know anyone.”

“We have a peer outreach program at school,” I say, proud that I can help. “I can meet you in the principal’s office in the morning and sign up to be his peer guide.” The old Kiara would have been too shy and would never have offered, but not the new Kiara.

“I’ve got to warn you . . .”

“About what?”

“My brother can be tough to deal with.”

My lips turn into a wide grin, because as Tuck pointed out . . . “I love a good challenge.”



“I don’t need a peer guide.”

Those are the first words out of my mouth as Mr. House, the Flatiron High School principal, introduces me to Kiara Westford.

“We pride ourselves on our peer outreach programs,” Mr. House says to Alex. “They help ensure a smooth transition.”

My brother nods. “No problem with me. I’m sold on the idea.”

“I’m not,” I mumble. I don’t need a damn peer guide because (1) it’s obvious from the way Alex greeted Kiara a few minutes ago that he knows her, and (2) the girl is not hot; she has her hair up in a ponytail, is wearing leather hiking boots with three-quarter stretch pants with an Under Armour logo peeking out the bottom, and is covered from neck to knee by an oversized T-shirt with the word MOUNTAINEER written on it, and (3) I don’t need a babysitter, especially one that my brother arranged.

Mr. House sits in his big, brown leather chair and hands Kiara a copy of my schedule. Great, so now the girl knows where I’m supposed to be every second of the day. If this situation weren’t so humiliatin’, it’d be hilarious.

“This is a big school, Carlos,” House says as if I can’t figure out the map on my own. “Kiara is an exemplary student. She’ll show you to your locker and escort you to each class for your first week here.”

“You ready?” the girl asks with a big grin. “The first-period late bell already rang.”

Can I request another peer guide, one who isn’t so happy to be at school at seven thirty a.m.?

Alex waves me off, and I’m tempted to flip him the finger but I’m not sure the principal would appreciate it.