-19

Elaine stood, hand on her hip, watching as men in blue coveralls kept marching out of Jose's mansion like colonies of ants, carrying various pieces of furniture. Her eyebrows furrowed as she watched two guys come around front toting the queen-sized mattress of Jose's bed. Moisture prickled behind her eyes, but she quickly swiped at them. Frowning, she turned and looked at Jose standing off in the distance.

His arms were folded and he was frowning, deep in thought. Carefully, Elaine scampered over to stand next to him and lightly touched his arm.

"You...you don't really have to claim bankruptcy, do you?" she asked.

Of all the people in the world, Jose was the only one Elaine really cared about. In her book, it'd been a miracle when he moved to Cress. He was the only other person she knew that shared her goal of wanting to rule the world; he'd promised to make her his queen. And no matter how many girls he'd been with, he'd never betrayed her. He always kept in her on in the plan, but today, Elaine was still waiting for him to give her an update.

"I only lost the stocks," Jose replied, shooting her a cocky smirk. "I'm rolling in oodles of cash, babe. I've even got an offshore bank account in Switzerland."

"You had me kinda worried there," she said with a sheepish smile. "Why are you leaving?"

Jose was silent, making her stomach tie into a bunch of jumbled up knots. Biting her lip, she walked up to him and looked right into his green eyes. When she was only an inch away, Jose reached up and put his index finger under her chin and tilted her face towards his.

"Al pretty much won," Jose admitted, the words feeling like a bunch of sharp nails in his mouth. "There's only so much meddling I can do. As long as he's got the allies he's got, I don't stand a chance. That stupid little bastard has friends that could be the next frigging Bill Gates! All of my computers are fried; my security cameras are on the fritz..."

With each word, Jose seemed to be getting more and more frustrated. Flustered, Elaine leaned forward and pressed her forehead against his. "It's not like you to give up!" she cried. "I'm building up quite a bit of influence. I even have one of Heather's stupid flunkies under my wing and I'm pretty sure I could draw out the other one with sparkly bangles or something-"

"I'm not giving up," Jose said with conviction. "I just know when to retreat and regroup. Now is unfortunately one of those times."

Unbelieving, Elaine pulled away and balled her fists. "Alejandro couldn't have done anything-"

"Don't underestimate him!" Jose howled at her. "I made that mistake...And now, look at my car, Elaine." Jose's convertible had a huge dent in the hood. "My shoes." Jose's shoes were covered in charred cat poop. "My bedroom is filled with an unmentionable, horrible, terrible stench. And now, all of the older women and my friends here in Cress..." Jose's lips trembled and his voice came out squeaky: "They think I have a...tiny penis."

"I can't believe it!" Elaine's pupils shrunk. "I'm not the only one who knows anymore..."

"Elaine!" Jose squawked, eyes darting around nervously. "My cell phone's broken and all of the pictures I had of you on it are gone. Everybody knows about what happened with Kate and about my meddling in the school election. Because of Al, that little shit, I'm ruined! He beat me. Beat me good..."

Angry tears falling from his eyes, Jose looked down at the ground and Elaine continued to stare at him.

"Alejandro...did all of that?"

"That's only one-third of what he did," Jose replied, not looking up. "Now do you see why...? Are you satisfied?"

Sighing, Elaine walked over to him and put her hand on his back. "Will you...come back to get me?"

"Yeah, I'll keep in touch," Jose sniffed. "Could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, anything..."

"Kick Al's ass in the election today."

Courtney was the only one wearing a pant suit for the school election, but that was just fine with her. As she stood behind the red velvet curtains on the school stage, she peered out at the auditorium filled with her fellow students. The sound of their conversation filled the space everywhere, washing over everything like a wave. Today, Courtney felt ferociously confident.

She clenched her fists at her sides and let out a breath. Now that the biggest meddler in the election was gone, she was going to kick butt! She didn't need Arnold, or the AV Club, or any more dirt; she could win as just as an aggressive and strong politician. Right now, Courtney felt so powerful: she was going to beat all of her opponents.

Courtney turned to see Justin watching her, smiling. He gave her a thumbs up.

They'd been working together for a week and as Courtney looked back on it, Justin had practically bent over backwards helping her in the campaign. He'd spent his study halls hanging up her posters when he should have been getting help in math, wearing her campaign buttons even though they clashed with his clothes, even rallied all of his friends to vote for her. Even though she'd persistently refused to go out with him and all of his romantic advances, he'd still helped her...

"You definitely have my vote,"Justin told her, winking.

Courtney smiled a little, not meeting his eyes. "Thanks..."

"No problem!" Justin said brightly.

"No..." Courtney looked at him full-on, straight into his hypnotizing blue eyes. "Not just for that. For everything. When I win today, some of it'll be because of you."

What surprised Courtney was that Justin looked a bit taken aback. He looked at her and blinked, unsure of how to react. Maybe it was because of the ungrateful responses Courtney had been launching at him all week.

Frowning, Courtney felt something prickling at her. Arnold's accusatory remarks sailed through her mind and she could feel a lump forming in her throat. He was right and he'd disbanded from Courtney's campaign because of being mistreated and rightly so.

Furrowing her brow, Courtney tilted her head and looked at Justin. He really was attractive and not that bad a guy. Not really sure what was compelling her, Courtney took another step towards him and then wrapped her arms around his neck. Both of them were blushing from the close proximity. Before she could lose her nerve, Courtney dived in and planted a kiss on Justin's lips, kissing him for close to a minute before pulling away.

Justin's eyes were wide now, but he quickly rebounded and started smiling.

"Don't think too much about it, stud," Courtney teased, batting her eyelashes at him.

"I've been waiting for that all week..." Justin smirked. "I knew you'd eventually come around."

Rolling her eyes, Courtney pulled away from him and folded her arms.

"I'll see you after school today," she told him as she walked towards the curtains again. "You're treating me to dinner."

"Hey!" Courtney turned and looked back at Justin. "No offense, but...could you wear something better than that frumpy pant suit? You're way too hot for-"

"Just wait and see..." Courtney cut him off, blushing as she turned back around.

Walking out onto stage, Courtney lightly touched her lips and smiled. She'd felt a little bit of a spark back there...

-Alejandro-

I just can't wipe the smirk off of my face.

I can bet that Jose received quite a few unpleasant surprises this morning. Since I just couldn't disappoint Duncan and Gwen, we reassigned the night's load of pranks to a new victim...

I smiled as I sent a slew of text messages to Jose's friends. Despite how late it was tonight, I'd convinced Heather's friends, Lindsay, Beth, and surprisingly Sandra, to help me spread mierda about Jose to all of his friends and potential girlfriends. Tomorrow morning, Jose's reputation was going to be sinking deeper than the Titanic.

As soon as I was done, I turn to Duncan and Gwen. They both nod and then Duncan holds up a stinking paper bag, unceremoniously dropping it ten feet down onto Jose's front stoop. Then he brings out his army knife and clenches it between his teeth as I pick the lock on Jose's bedroom window. Jose was going to be out until at least two in the morning because of his party boy habits, so we have ample time for everything I want to do.

"I've always wanted to do something like this!" Duncan says around the shaft of the knife, eyes wide and wild.

I break the lock on the window and then push it open. "I deactivated Jose's security system, but it'll be back online in about an hour..." My eyes widen when I see an unexpected message pop up on my cell phone screen. "Never mind. Looks like we've got more time than I thought."

To my utter surprise, Arnold sent me a text message saying that he'd deactivated Jose's security system indefinitely. Well, I suppose I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Duncan crawled in through the window, followed by Gwen, and then I came in last, closing the window behind us. Jose's bedroom was bathed in shadow, but I only had to walk a few steps to find the door leading to the rest of the house. Duncan found Jose's closet and I lingered around long enough to see him pull one of Jose's suits off of the hangers and start butchering it with his knife.

Gwen and I crept down the hall and I led her to Jose's study. Inside, I could make out the shapes of at least six computer monitors and a few lap tops. I sat down at one of the computers and turned it on, Gwen peering over my shoulder.

"Are you sure Jose's not gonna press charges for breaking and entering?" she asked.

She hadn't been as forthcoming for this particular venture as Duncan had, but I could understand her hesitancy.

"How do you think he was able to get all of the money he has?" I refute, waiting for the computer to load all the way.

"I thought he was the creator of some social networking site..." Gwen replies.

"That's probably one of his covers," I reply as I easily guess Jose's password and gain access. "I have sources of my own, Gwen. I've lived all over the world and have friends in all of those places. Jose is nowhere near innocent. He's a drug lord with an empire that stretches from the Mexican border to New England. He even has some of his business going on here."

"Holy crap!"

I start opening Jose's document files and I'm not surprised to see all of the photos of Elaine. Some are really risque. Right off the bat, I start dumping those into the virtual trash can, along with every other file on the computer. After this, I'll have to see if I can install a virus or something to keep Jose from being able to run any antivirus or restoration properly.

"As a matter of fact, I think he's on the FBI's most wanted list," I continue. "Thing is, he's probably under a different alias there than with his own name. What we're doing tonight, I'd say it's a favor. Jose won't press charges because his ego's so big and he can't bear any kind of thought of admitting defeat to me..." I smirk.

"Why don't you turn him in?" Gwen asks, gripping the back of the chair.

I frown and stop what I'm doing, turning to look at her with steely eyes. "I have my reasons. They're none of your business."

Taking a deep breath, Gwen backs away. "You don't have to get so defensive!"

"How about you go assist Duncan in shredding Jose's clothes or...something?"

"I'll help clear out Jose's computers," Gwen replies, turning on the one next to me and sitting down.

The computer hums and the screen glows as Gwen waits for it to start all the way up.

"I guess you and Heather worked things out?" she asks casually, not looking at me.

"Yes," I sigh, forgetting Jose for a moment and feeling great again.

I lean back in the chair and smile.

I'm sitting in a hard metal chair. Elaine and Courtney are sitting in the chairs next to me, glaring at each other. There's tension in the air and the high possibility of another cat fight. Every so often, Elaine shoots a glare in my direction, but I just ignore her.

What has my attention is that Heather's sitting right in the front row. It was a major sacrifice on her part to give up this position and I can see that from the look of uncertainty that keeps crossing her face, but when she notices me looking at her, she shoots a smile at me. On either side of her are Lindsay and Beth and next to Beth is Heather's newest friend Sandra. All four of them are wearing "Vote Alejandro" shirts. The display kind of touches me.

Too bad Duncan and Gwen thought the T-shirts looked stupid...

Suddenly, everybody's attention diverts their attention to the principal and vice-principal as they walk up on stage. As usual, they're arguing like an old married couple. Mr. McClean gets in one last comment before he ascends the podium and looks out at everybody.

"Okay, today you guys are voting for the Junior class president," he says, looking irritated. "Your candidates are Courtney, Elaine, and Alejandro. Each one will give a three minute speech. No more than three minutes." He shoots a look at Courtney. "After that, we'll release you guys to vote. Vote for the candidate that best supports your views. Blah, blah, blah. This isn't a popularity contest, blah, blah, blah...Elaine, you're up first."

I can feel myself bristling as Elaine struts up to the podium and flips her hair as if she doesn't have a care in the world. It almost makes me want to barf when the vice principal leans forward and seems to be getting a little too excited about this candidate's speech. Now that I think about it, Elaine looks a lot like the vice principal...

"Hey, I'll bet you guys remember me," she crows to the crowd in her faux sugary sweet voice. "I'm a much better choice than Courtney or Alejandro. I even scared Heather to the point of dropping out of the election..." Elaine leans forward and pounds the podium top with the palms of her hands. "I can get all of you exactly what you want for this school. We could have prom in New York City. I could get you guys that tennis team, that basketball court. I have connections, people. Powerful and rich connections! Plus, I can be very persuasive. This is more than just a position about reputation...this is my stand to make Cress High School the most posh place to be, the school everybody wants to go to..."

Wearing a snake's smile, Elaine leans forward more, her hair hanging around her face like a deceptive golden halo. "I can get more male models to come here. Justin's not the only one in the entire world. There's more. And with the right tweaks, I could get a whole slew of superstars to come here. Maybe even talent agents. I'll bet all of you have dreamed about being a star at one point or another..." She leans back and pauses for dramatic effect. "I can make that happen. Vote for me and there's a lot that I can do." Before she turns, she says one last thing into the microphone: "Also, if you didn't already know...the vice principal's my mom..."

The crowd bursts into loud applause and raucous, unnecessary cheering as Elaine walks away and sits back down, looking smug. Looking over at the vice principal, her face is a smug reflection of Elaine's. The family resemblance is evident. Elaine knows how to set everything out on the table and tempt people, like a salesman at a school fundraiser. Her smug attitude ticks me off, but I know that I can beat her. If she thinks she's winning just because she can manipulate and lure successfully, she's dead wrong.

I'm the master of manipulation. She's just an above-average participant in the art.

McClean rolls his eyes as he steps up to the podium again. He looks like he'd rather be anywhere else but here. "Courtney."

Just as McClean is stepping away, Courtney appears right in front of the podium and grips the microphone on it in a vice. Her knuckles are ghost white and she looks absolutely furious, gritting her teeth and ready to explode like a volcano.

"Elaine!"Courtney shrieks into the microphone. "I doubt you'd be able to deliver what you're promising! As soon as you got the position, you wouldn't take any input from anybody! Everything would be your way or the highway. You'd be worse than Heather and that's saying something."

Courtney backs away from the microphone and takes a deep breath, composing herself before continuing. "I want to be class president to truly help out this school. Unlike the previous class president, I'd listen to what you guys had to say. For example, if you want more vegetarian choices on the menu, I'll find a way to get them there. Just because Elaine says that she can get you prom in New York City, there's more to this position than that. Class president is a representation of all of you and that person needs to be honest, responsible, a true citizen. Before I say anything more, I tried to undermine Heather's chances of winning through corruption. I took advantage of the AV Club, especially Arnold. I want to say...that I'm sorry to all of you members of the AV Club, my fellow peers, and especially Alejandro and Heather..."

She turns to me and inclines her head; I incline my head back, letting her know that I'm listening. Courtney smiles slightly. "Now that I've said that, I continue by saying that I'd like to be your class president because I intend to hold the position with integrity. I intend to be that citizen, to properly represent our class. I'll do better than superstars and male models. This isn't about becoming famous! This is about improving what we already have. Together, we can make this school better. We'll start small and then eventually, we may just have the best school in the state! We already have the best test scores and staff. We're already the leaders in sports. We've already got Justin, the number 1 teen male model in the U.S.! We've even got Alejandro, the best skateboarder in South America!" Courtney gestures at me and I'm surprised as everybody looks at me and start cheering. My attention briefly diverts to Heather and she smiles at me, seemingly impressed by this new bit of information I had yet to tell her or anyone for that matter...

"Why not perpetuate what we have and continue being on the top?" Courtney asks, beating the podium with her hand. Off to the side, McClean starts tapping the face of his watch, looking irritated. "We are Cress High School!" Courtney pumps her fist in the air.

Then she turns and returns to her seat. The cheers and applause in the auditorium are even louder this time than last. Appealing to the students' school spirit was a very good move on Courtney's part. For a brief second, she almost got my vote. McClean marches up to the podium again and it takes him an entire minute and a half to get the auditorium to quiet down. Once he does, he sighs and says: "Okay, Alejandro...You're the last one up."

Smiling, I walk up to the podium, my back straight and my shoulders squared, radiating confidence. Courtney and Elaine might be hard acts to follow, but it always is the best for last, correct? I look out at the crowd and my eyes are instantly drawn to Heather. She smiles up at me and I smile back, wondering what's going through her mind.

"I don't know if I can be as convincing as Elaine and Courtney, but I'll see what I can do," I begin, attempting fake modesty. "To be honest, I can do much, much more than just skateboard. Like Courtney was saying, I'll represent you all with the utmost respect and goodwill. I'll be sure to make the junior class look as absolutely impressive and stupendous as we really are. On top of that, I can personally guarantee that any and all problems you bring to me will be solved some way somehow. I'll listen to all of the other members of student council with the utmost respect; I'm very receptive to others' opinions and can play fair. Not to brag too much, but...I'm almost over-qualified for this position. I've been in a campaign to help my mother become the mayor of the last city I lived in; I've helped at soup kitchens, donated to charity, and been involved in almost every school activity at all of my previous schools."

"I may not be able to get you male models like Elaine or rally your school spirit like Courtney. But to put it simply, I can get the job done. I don't really have anything else to say. Thank you."

I turn and walk away from the podium, feeling the complete silence that fills the auditorium. Uno, dos, tres...One person starts clapping. Then another and another and the effect ripples throughout the rest of the auditorium like a chain reaction. Soon enough, almost everybody's on their feet, clapping and cheering. Smiling, I turn and face them, bow a few times. It may have been a little subdued, but I'm getting a more spontaneous reception than Courtney and Elaine.

Both Courtney and Elaine turn to look at me, incredulous. I look back at them, smile, and wink.

I know how to play the game.

"I can't believe you didn't win..." Heather says as she climbs into the passenger side of my truck; she's slowly been getting used to the fact that it's not as fancy as a Porsche.

I frown, feeling my eye twitch as I start the truck. "Can we just not discuss it any more?"

"She didn't even run..." Heather shakes her head. "She was a write-in candidate, didn't even give a speech, and she wasn't even here. And she won..."

"Shut up, Heather!"

This is driving me crazy. I should have won. I know all of the tricks of the trade, how to convince people. Never in my life have I ever lost. If Heather brings up the obvious any more today, I'm going to throttle her. It's obvious she's doing this just to press my buttons. As if Jose hasn't done enough of that already.

"Geez, take a chill pill, would you?" Heather rolls her eyes.

"Kate Hernandez won. I get it." I turn and glare at her.

"I didn't bring it up this time, so stop glaring at me," Heather snaps. "Don't you need to get to work pretty soon, anyway?"

Sighing heavily, I pull out and end up bickering back and forth all the way to her mansion. As soon as I pull up into her driveway, I turn and stare at her, and she stares back at me. I really don't want to end up arguing with her into tomorrow, especially since I'm the one driving her to and from school at the moment. Our relationship seems to be getting more difficult now that we're past the honeymoon phase...

Heather leans over and kisses me. The last thing I expected today was her coaxing me into a make-out session right now, but I don't resist. After five minutes, she leans against my chest and runs her fingers across my bare chest, her other hand holding my shirt.

"You can always try again next year," she says, smiling. "You'll have to compete against me next time, though."

For some reason, I like the sound of that. I'll obviously win, but since I like having Heather this close, I just smile at her instead of saying anything.

Mom's sitting in the front row of the church in a pale blue dress, her baby bump starting to show. Next to her, Dad holds her hand and smiles. Both of them are smiling at me. With tears in her eyes, Mom, the ever sentimental one, reaches out and cups my cheek in her hand.

"This is such a big day for you!" she cries, smiling happily. "My baby boy's growing up!"

Embarrassed, I reach up and touch her hand. "I suppose..."

"Pilar's going to have an aunt!" Mom says, looking absolutely ecstatic.

I gently pull away from her and wander to the back of the church. The pews are starting to fill up and Uncle Ernesto, a famous Latin rock singer in Argentina, is warming up at the organ. Quite a few of my relatives from all over the globe are here. It's so interesting to see them all gathered in one place, considering that most of the time my parents are the family members I get to see the most often. The others are family friends and the relatives and family friends of the bride.

Of course the only person not here is Jose and I'm extremely grateful for that. He's the last person I'd want to see on a special day like this.

Speaking of people I'm not too excited about seeing, Owen and Izzy evaporate out of thin air. Owen sticks his huge meaty arm around my shoulders and Izzy persists in trying to stick a piece of duct tape to my arm. Irritated, I look up at Owen and attempt to smile. Whoever made the guest list for this event made a big mistake when they put Owen on it as a 'family friend'; a more apt term to describe him would be 'the pain in the rear that's attached himself to me like a leech since the beginning of the year.'

"Heya Al!" Owen bubbles, all happy and bouncy as usual. "I'll bet you're pretty excited, huh?"

"Yes, I am as a matter of fact," I reply and surprisingly, it's not entirely a lie.

"I can't wait for the cake!" Owen goes on. "What flavor of cake is there?"

"I'll bet it's sushi..." Izzy pipes up, playing with her duct tape.

"Sushi..." Owen starts to drool.

"There is sushi!" Izzy replies, snapping the tape. "I have one right here..." She pulls a piece of shrimp out of the sleeve of her turquoise dress. "I named him Bob! Say hi, Bob!"

"There's more sushi in the reception hall," I say, pushing Owen away before he can drool all over me. "Feel free to go get some!"

Much to my relief, he and Izzy run off in that particular direction, leaving me alone.

That's when I feel hands wrap around my neck, sending tingles down my spine.

"I wondered if I was going to find you..."

I turn around and kiss Heather on the cheek before another hand clamps down on my shoulder. When I turn to see who it is, I'm relieved to see Carlos standing there, smiling.

"Sorry to break it up, you two, but I need my best man standing by the altar pretty soon here..."

Carlos is officially married. I can't help smiling as I watch Carlos and his new fiery-haired wife dance in the middle of the floor. It really gets me, tugging at my heart strings because they're both so in love...I really did read way too many romance novels as a kid.

I sit at a table while Owen and Izzy yammer my ear off about pointless things. Out of the corner of my eye, I have to keep tabs on Izzy, though. She's been toting around that piece of shrimp since the beginning of the wedding and I really don't want her to place it on my shoulder. Right now, she's making it dance and Owen keeps begging her to let him eat it, but she keeps telling him no...

It's so stupid. They're both so childish and annoying.

I'm wishing I could find Heather...she's my date and I haven't gotten one scant minute alone with her all day. Sighing, I lean back in the chair, looking up at the ceiling since I seem to have nothing better to do. That's when I briefly glimpse Heather peering around a pillar in the great big ball room. She waves at me and gestures for me to come over, making my heart leap in my chest.

"Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom," I tell Owen and Izzy. They don't even notice since their attention is still focused on the piece of shrimp.

Quickly, I make my way across the room, around tables covered with white table cloths and couples or groups talking to each other. A few of them are shooting appalled looks at where Owen and Izzy are sitting and I can't blame them. Somehow, I'm able to get behind the pillar and my heart's racing like an off-track locomotive in my chest.

Heather looks absolutely gorgeous. She's wearing a long, elegant blue dress that hugs her body in just the right way and her hair's tied back, showing how beautiful her eyes and lips are. This is the first time I've been able to get a good look at her all day and my heart is beating as quickly as it did when I first saw her walking through the high school hallways.

We've been together for four months now and I love her so much, I feel like my heart's about to burst like a supernova in my chest. She looks up at me expectantly and smiles, tilting her head.

"Would you like to dance?" I ask her, extending my hand.

"I've been wanting to all day," she says, taking it and then dragging me out from behind the pillar.

There's a mid-tempo rhythm going with just enough of a beat for our dance. No cues or hints needed, we dive right into dancing a tango. After four months, Heather's become an effortless professional. With grace and ease, I love how much everything flows. There seems to be a beat of a magic moment whenever Heather looks into my eyes and her pupils are flaring with passion.

We continue for three or four minutes as the song continues to play, lost in our own individual universe. The longer we dance, the more intimate it becomes. As the song starts to come to a close, Heather drapes her arm around my neck, and wraps her leg around mine, coming in close. Our noses are touching and I can feel her warm breath on my face, feel her heart beating as fast as mine.

For a second we come back to reality and I can feel the energy of the room around us. Everybody's looking, cheering, applauding. But it fades away again quickly.

Heather and I close our eyes and then kiss. All the same sparks are there, making me explode and take off like a rocket. It's a wonderful experience and just as wonderful as the very first time. When I finally pull away, Heather and I both look at each other, entranced and captivated.

"Do you think we'll ever get married one day?" she asks, her eyes sparkling.

"That is a very distinct possibility," I reply.

-FIN-