Chapter 2: Life's a zit

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I'm late to class again. The first hour is hell. My sweet sixteen has burst onto the scene accompanied by uncontrollable acne. Every morning I wake up with a new monster-zit, while both a desire to cry and an intense rage overwhelm me. Depending on its size and location, I arrive earlier or later to class. The delicate operation of squeezing it or hiding it can get tricky. I've learned it's a good idea to leave my bangs long so I can cover my face with my hair, depending on the area I want to hide. It's quite an art, a masterful skill acquired as a result of unpredictable skin outbreaks—in other words, thanks to my acne. Hoodies are also a useful resource, especially for zits close to the hairline. My top priority is to go unnoticed, I have no interest in people taking notice of me. My four or five good friends are plenty for me. I'm not interested in being queen of the party, all I want is to be left alone, for us to be able to get together somewhere without being disturbed. We've called that place Menorca. It's a beautiful little Mediterranean island. If we "go to Menorca", it means we're getting together to chat freely and openly because something's bothering us. Just like in Menorca, we're far from all the noise and crowds; we feel calm and free, like in Menorca, and, what's more, we know it's best to change coast depending on where the wind's blowing from, just like in Menorca. If the wind blows from the north, Tramuntana: jokes, attacks, humiliation. Then we get together at mine. If the wind comes from the south, Migjorn: boredom, apathy, laziness... We meet up at bar El de Siempre, where the patatas bravas are so good we start to feel better. Menorca is as our sacred space, our safe haven, a sanctuary without walls, cassocks or religious items. When we go to Menorca, we all share our true feelings about a situation as openly and honestly as possible. It's like gathering around an altar on which each of us offer up our own personal experiences.

This year I learned there are worse pimples in life than the ones on my face. They can break out and burst into your life at any moment, stinging so hard they blight your existence. Nico is one of them. He's the court jester of sorts, but with a bad attitude disguised behind the smiles. Nobody wants to feel the sharp blade of his words, he has no mercy. He can cut anyone apart with his cruel, humiliating comments. But always with a friendly tone of voice, of course. That's what confuses us the most. A lot of people are scared of him, myself included. Fortunately, I'm as a good as invisible to him. I don't give him any reason to take notice of me, but this morning I arrive late and to my surprise, Nico is there in the class. He stares at me as I walk in, or rather, at the huge zit I strangled just an hour before. He looks at me with as much contempt as it's possible to show towards another human being. His snub little nose turns up even further than usual, half of his upper lip raised to the heavens in a mocking sneer. To complement his expression of disgust, he adds in a honeyed voice which unnerves me even more:

"Babe, did you take a look in the mirror before you left home this morning?"

"Yes, why?"

"I don't think you looked hard enough, you're bleeding."

"Bleeding?" "Where?"

"There." He points with his slim, pale finger to the exact location of my zit. He quickly lowers his arm, as it he'd exerted too much effort paying attention to me.

He exchanges glances with the queen, celebrating the first triumph of the morning; just twenty minutes after school started, he's already victorious. A few laughs in the background interrupts the teacher's explanation. I get more and more nervous as I look for a tissue but can't find one, so I decide to get up without permission and leave the classroom.

"Where are you going, Judith?" the teacher asks.

"To the bathroom, it's urgent."

"You can't just leave without permission, Judith."

"I know, but I have to go."

"Hurry, hurry, you don't want it to get so big it explodes," says Nico under his breath.

Some of the class laugh, the rest don't even get what's going on.

I leave the class burning like wildfire, if anyone touches me I swear I'll burst into flames or, at the very least, a few sparks will fly. I manage to calm myself down a little in the bathroom and I go back to class in haze of anger, embarrassment and confusion. I never know how I'm going to react when I feel this way, it depends which of the three resident emotions in my soul wins in that particular moment. It's difficult to tell which it will be. And this time, against all odds, it's anger that wins. I never fail to surprise myself. As I enter the class, I hear that sickly sweet voice of his again:

"Darling, you had me worried. I thought that..."

That comment—"you had me worried..."—fans the flames inside me to the point of no return and, forgetting where I am, I shout:

"First of all, don't lie! I'm not your darling. If I had to choose a name for how you treat me, it would be "my piece of shit." And secondly, I may have a zit on my face that ends up oozing pus but afterwards it'll heal. Your heart is just one huge, bitter, pus-filled pimple that spews out shit 24/7, and there's no cure for that."

It's impossible to describe Nico's face. There is a deathly silence in the class, as if they had been waiting years to hear my outburst, as if I had said out loud what everybody had wanted to say at some point. I swear I don't even know what I'm capable of sometimes.

It's one of the longest conversations I have ever had with Nico. He's almost two years older than me and hardly comes to class. He appears maybe a day or two a week, just enough to boast to everybody about the crazy parties he went to at the weekend. On the dancefloor, his swagger and wild gyrations provoke a kind of collective ecstasy. His body almost defied the laws of gravity, all eyes were on him: and he wanted everybody to know it. When it came to alcohol, Nico was one of the biggest drinkers in the universe and loved to boast about all the latest cocktails he'd tried. Of course he was on intimate terms with all kinds of drugs, not just alcohol. He only took the best quality, purest lines of cocaine, increasing his insatiable energy and leading to all kinds of ecstatic debauchery, non-stop for three days straight. There was nothing about sex that Nico didn't profess to know; for him it was one conquest after another, after another. He had tried and enjoyed every position known to man, every kind of company, every possibility of achieving orgasm... and he always succeeded in his never-ending quest for the greatest possible pleasure. I have no idea why he felt the compelling need to tell everybody everything.

And vacations? Nico had been just about everywhere, he had travelled round the globe and back, always at the invite of his supposed friends. In just a short period of time, over ten different trips appeared on his Instagram: Istanbul, Mallorca, Malaga, Ibiza, Sicily, London, back to Ibiza, Amsterdam, and Ibiza yet again. Nothing seemed to surprise him anymore, and maybe this was the real tragedy. At seventeen years old, nothing surprised him, nothing was new. And at just seventeen, after showing off and parading every aspect of his life in public, none of it surprised anybody else either.

When he came to school, he took the queen aside and both of them fawned over each other with mutual praise—what a cute skirt, you've got such good taste—, recommendations for stores, clothes, clubs, friends... And, of course, they cut us all to pieces with their words. With the sharpest possible blade, they would dissect us one by one: not enough ass, too much nose, balding, bad taste, desperate, basic, crazy, cocksucker, whore, horny... They really knew how to cut deep.

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