Chapter 2: Shut your mouth

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As expected, my friends are waiting for me outside the classroom and Marina celebrates my outburst triumphantly.

"Judith, dude, you made a member of the monarchy finally shut their mouth, you left them speechless!"

"I don't feel so proud of it, Marina, they'll get their revenge sooner or later."

"Damn, you really should be. I would have punched him in the face, but they won't let me.

My psychologist says I'm not allowed. No violence," explains Maria.

"I hope it's not only because your psychologist told you not to," I reply.

"No, it's also because he's two foot taller than me and I'm a long way off a black belt," she laughs.

I start laughing too, she always gets me with her self-assurance.

"I think this deserves a trip to Menorca," suggests Fátima. "When and where?"

"Yeah, you're right. Let's go to Menorca, we need to think things over and regroup," says Diego.

Marina is a good friend. She hangs out with us from time to time. I think, in a way, she feels a little sorry for us and wants to protect us. That's why she feels so proud of me. She's a bag of nerves, super smart and boxing is her hobby.

She's a year older than us. She likes to advocate for lost causes and that's why she likes us so much: she feels we're vulnerable and it's her duty to look out for us. She's stood up for us more than once, but we have to reel her in before she gets too confrontational.

Every now and then she drops off the radar. Her love life is always intense, so when she has a boyfriend we won't see her for weeks, until they call it quits and she suddenly reappears. Her relationships are all-consuming, she throws herself in headfirst and they always end badly. A rollercoaster of depression inevitably follows, but she always gets through it in the end. We're very different but, even so, I can speak openly with her about anything. She's a really attractive person. More than once I've thought I'd like to spend more time with her to see if she rubs off on me, making up for the things I lack. When I'm by her side I stop being a chicken; suddenly I feel bold and strong, and it feels great. I even feel this need sometimes to keep her close, to possess her like some kind of ghost or try a blood transfusion to see if she can infect me with some of her courage. It comes so naturally to her to stand up to injustice that she makes it seem easy. I often look at her and wonder where she gets all her strength. And to top it all off, she has such a great body that a lot of girls admire her for that alone. I know she feels a little sorry for me, but she treats me with a lot of respect and that makes her even more attractive.

This one time, she was really moved by something I did. I remember it like it was yesterday. One afternoon, I went to pick up my brother Tomás from his special school. That day, he was a little annoyed and his way of showing it was to lie on the floor, take off his shoes and refuse to move. It was November and I was still new at school. I was unlucky enough to walk with him through the square where my classmates were hanging out. I died of embarrassment when I realized I had to walk right in front of the popular kids. My brother seemed to sense something, he has this gift, so he decided to sit down on the ground just in front of them and refused to move.

There are some looks you never forget, carved into your mind and soul, and the combination of mockery and pity on their faces is one of them: "Thank God my family didn't get this." I learned to identify it early on. They cornered me.

"Come on, Tomás, Mom's waiting for us," I explained to him. Tomás didn't move and they carried on laughing.

"Tomás, Mom's going to be mad with us," I insisted.

Tomás took off one of his shoes. More and more laughter—cruel, raucous laughter—like a dart launched from their mouths with every laugh and hitting the bullseye of the most vulnerable, exposed part of my heart.

"Tomás, I'm going to call Rodrigo," I threatened.

Tomás took off his other shoe. I was so nervous that as I bent down to pick them up, my books, my pencil case and pens, my wallet and money all fell to the ground. More and more eyes were on us. The overwhelming sense of helplessness reduced me to tears and I shouted:

"Please, just leave us alone! There are a lot of you and you're very close, he's getting more and more nervous!"

But it seemed nobody wanted to miss the show. And it was at that moment that Marina appeared, in typical Marina style:

"What's going on here? Get out of here, everybody, fucking go home already.

If you don't leave them alone right now I'll give everybody here a slap in the face."

"Ooh, what a thug," I heard somebody say.

Fact is, her threat worked. Everybody knew Marina was more than capable of getting into a fight, we had all seen it. The crowd started to disperse and she came over to ask if I needed anything. I said if she could go get a chocolate chip cookie, Tomás was sure to get up. Two minutes later she was back with a pack of cookies. She showed them to my brother and, without thinking twice, he got to his feet and started walking. I walked home still crying my eyes out and Marina came with me. It was the first time she came over. I introduced her to my mom. She looked me in the eyes and asked me what happened.

"Tomás sat on the ground in the middle of the square after school and I couldn't get him up. The worst part is, the biggest assholes in my class were right there in front of us."

"Judith, mind your language."

"But Mom, they're real jerks, there's no other way to describe them. When he sat down on the ground, they surrounded us and Tomás got more and more nervous. I tried to get him up but they were all right there laughing harder and harder."

"Well, in that case, they really were assholes. Poor Judith. When Tomás gets like that it's very difficult to make him change his mind." My mom made us laugh, she doesn't usually curse.

"The bigger the jerks, the more upset he gets. Anyway, Mom, I'd like to introduce you to Marina. I've already told you about her. She helped us out a lot back in the square. She sent everybody home threatening to wipe the floor with them. Marina's really tough, she's so brave."

"Ma'am, I just can't stand people picking on anyone, let alone the defenseless."

"I'm very grateful for your help, Marina. You can call me Carmen."

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