Chapter 1: Journey to the stars

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At the end of the second semester, just before the Easter break, Diego and I decided to take a trip to the Pyrenees. Juan and Marina were game and Fátima tagged along at the last minute. We had everything organized and called it our "voyage to the stars", as the sky would be full of them at night. Diego was an astronomy enthusiast and his folks had given him a special telescope for Christmas. Diego's dad was going to take us and we were going to spend four days in their house in the mountains. We planned everything weeks before: meals, excursions, nights out.

Who would object to five friends from school taking a trip together? Well, it turned out to be an unprecedented offense to the queen and her royal court. We hadn't asked for permission for the organization and execution of the trip. They could not stand the thought of plans being made within the class that hadn't been proposed by them, that we were friends who shared the same dreams and plans... while the queen and her court looked on from the sidelines.

First, they tried to make fun of our trip to the mountains. They posted comments on Instagram making indirect references: "Friends left you hanging and don't know what to do? Take a trip to look at the sky." "Only suckers go stargazing."

The comments got the whole group down, we even started thinking the trip was a bad idea. Especially Juan, who thought it would be better to leave it for another time:

"When we get back they'll want to know everything we did, down to the last detail, just so they can laugh at us."

"And so what?" replied Marina.

"Wouldn't it be better to leave it for summer, when we don't have to come back to class?" insisted Juan.

"Why?" asked Marina.

"Because they're getting me down. The other day in the locker room they started dancing and chanting round me in a circle, making fun of our plans."

"Look, Juan, they're not going to suddenly stop doing stupid things like that if we cancel the trip. They always find a reason to humiliate us, and this time it's our trip," argued Diego.

When they realized mocking us hadn't worked, they began a strategic revenge campaign based on manipulation and downright cruelty. Employing the dark arts of Duke Gonzalo, they attacked the most susceptible member of the group: Juan. One afternoon, they invited him to grab a beer after class, even though they had never spoken to him for more than two minutes straight. Gonzalo suddenly seemed very interested in Juan, asking him about his hobbies, sports, his family... They even went to see his favorite film together, The Lord of the Rings. And it worked:

Juan: Could Gonzalo come on our trip to the mountains 🌟🌟?

Judith: Gonzalo? 😱😱😱😱😱😱😱

Juan: Yes, Gonzalo, we're good friends now and he asked me if he could come with us.

Fátima: Whaaaat? If Gonzalo comes, I'm not coming...😖😖😖

Juan: That's not fair, Fátima. Why can't he come? He's a good friend. The past 2 weeks we've hung out a lot and he asked me if he could come.

Fátima: Juan, there's no way he's interested in our trip. He must be up to something, I think he's tricking you.

Juan: Now I can't have other friends? 🥺 He's not at all like you think he is.

Diego: Maybe, Juan, but I still don't think it's a good idea for him to come.

Juan: Well I'm not coming either then, count me out.

And he left the WhatsApp group. We needed a long group meeting to discuss the decision. Juan explained he was getting to know Gonzalo, he'd even invited him home to meet his family. Gonzalo was having a tough time, he was distancing himself from Sandra's crew because they bullied people so much.

"Is that why he still hangs out with the royal court, except when you're around?" Marian reproached. "Don't you realize it's all a show?"

"When we got out of class yesterday, they were all there in the hallway making fun of Ramón, for a change," seconded Diego.

"I think there's some hidden motive behind all this and the aim is to mess with us. I might have believed it a year back, but after seeing what our corrupt monarchy is capable of, I don't buy any of it," I added. Everybody knew my theory of the queen and her absolute monarchy governing the school.

It was no use. The more reasons we gave, the more Juan clung to his idea. He had fallen for their trick, he was under the illusion that one of school's most popular kids wanted to be his friend. His desire to be popular blinded him and prevented him from changing his mind—he felt like he was under attack. Over the next few weeks, he didn't even speak to us and, of course, he didn't come on our trip to see the stars. And it was a real shame because we had a great time, too great for radar-brains to comprehend. We felt bad that Juan couldn't be part of our stellar adventures, but what got to us the most was what they did to our friend afterwards.

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