Chapter 1: Puddles

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It's pouring with rain, but I don't mind getting wet. I'm only a few minutes from home, I'll change out of my clothes and dry my hair when I get there. The rain is soaking me right down to my underwear. I'm stepping in one puddle after another, water splashing in my face. I'm a filthy mess, I admit it, but the rain has always fascinated me. When it's stormy, people hide away to avoid getting wet. The streets suddenly empty. I love going out in the rain. It's my way of shouting to the world that my backpack, my clothes, my cellphone aren't the most important things, that there's more to life than just my grades and appearance. I shout out in silence that Nature is greater than us, it forces us to change our plans and reminds us that we, humans, don't have the last word after all. I celebrate it this way just because I feel like it.

Through the curtain of water, I catch sight of some girls watching me. It's Sandra's doorway and I think I can make her out there, along with her friend Paula. Is it them? They're sure to take advantage of the situation to keep calling me "weird." And I keep asking myself, what does it mean to be weird: that I'm not like she wants me to be? That I don't meet her expectations? That I'm different? So, I guess that makes the whole of humanity weird. In less than twenty minutes those two idiots—and that's an understatement—will have already posted something on Instagram making fun of me. They have this need to make others feel bad about themselves, at any price. It's like they're full of shit that they need to empty over the most vulnerable. The rain keeps falling, washing away my worries in less time than it takes to jump the last four puddles between here and my front door, home.

I can't find my keys in my backpack and my brother Rodrigo opens the door:

"Last-minute swim class in your clothes?"

"Yeah, I swam all the way home."

"Must be a new kind of sport, I guess. You'll save a lot on transport on rainy days." Both of us burst out laughing.

"Is Mom home?" I ask.

"Yeah, but she's on a videocall."

I leave a trail of water in the hallway, marking my tracks all the way to the bathroom. Taking off my wet clothes and toweling myself dry is a real pleasure; it gives me an extra feeling of home, of a warm welcome, a sense of belonging.

"Are you okay, Judith?" my mom asks from outside the bathroom door.

"Yes, Mom, I just ran home in the pouring rain, that's all."

"I see you brought a few puddles in with you."

"Of course, just in case there's a drought."

"When you're done, make sure to mop it up, please. Tomás could slip on it," she reminds me.

Back in my room, I lay down on my bed and stare at the ceiling. A message from Marina comes through: "Dude, those suckers are always on the lookout." It's a screenshot of a photo with the caption: "Only weirdos jump in puddles." An uncontrollable rage runs through my veins. I'm about to explode. My fists are clenched in an iron grip and I swear, if they were here in front of me, I would punch them in the face or grab them by the neck. I can't stand Sandra. She tries to control everyone in the class: who we hang out with, who we get on with, who we have a crush on; the clothes we wear, where we go out, what we eat, how we have fun... She's not blessed with neurons like most of us mortals. Instead, she's got a radar antenna between her ears to spy on everyone all day long. She can't stand anything happening in class without her approval. It's like you have to ask her permission just to breathe, to feel. And the worst part is her entourage of loyal puppets, kissing her ass 24/7. They all laugh when she laughs, do whatever she says and make her even more big-headed.

Before I moved schools, I never imagined a real-life absolute monarchy could exist in a 21st century high school. Sandra was queen and at the head of her imperial court were Duke Gonzalo and Marquise Paula, her faithful subjects. Nico was another member of the royal entourage. Every now and then he would turn up to class and play court jester, the kingdom's official gossip; a real big mouth who kept no secrets and wanted to know everything about everybody. Some other members of the court were also unconditional supporters of the queen. But the rest of us, mere peasants.

Everyone accepted the crushing authoritarian system that did as it wished with the lives of its servants—no-one dared to mention it, let alone question it. I always wondered whether, some day, we would be able to do away with

our absolute monarchy, and something told me that day would come. We would need a secret service, a fully-fledged intelligence corps capable of waiting for the right moment to launch a genuine coup d'état. I had this unshakeable feeling that we would be able to abolish the system, don't ask me how, and it would come to an end sooner than anyone expected.

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