Yumi had always wondered how it would feel to be like her sister. Even for just a day. Even for just a moment.
“Okay, let’s take a vote. All in favor of A, raise your hands.”
She’d watched how her sister operated for years, and she still couldn’t figure out how she did it. Ate Tala made it look so easy. First place in a dance competition? Not a problem. Consistent Principal’s Lister? Piece of cake. Gorgeous hair, flawless skin, a knock-out figure, outgoing charm that made everybody fall in love with her—particularly true for the boys who lined up outside their house to ask her out? Check, check and check.
For years, Yumi was half-convinced that her sister had been swapped with another baby at the hospital. How else could she explain the way Tala shone as bright as the star she was named for, despite being borne of two wonderful but otherwise dull and ordinary parents? Especially when compared to her extremely dull and ordinary younger sister, whose name meant beautiful and graceful but whose personality was anything but. Honestly, the only other explanation Yumi could think of was that her sister was a witch.
But as it turned out, it wasn’t Tala who was the witch.
“Hmm. All in favor of B, raise your—wow, okay. Do we even need to count hands?”
The class erupted in cheers. Yumi felt hands on her, patting her shoulders and promptly getting caught in her curls. A couple of girls congratulated her while the others began yelling out plans and ideas, adding to the din. A part of her thought it was all kind of silly. She hadn’t done anything worth being congratulated for. But the rest of her flushed with pleasure and laughed along with her classmates, reveling in the warm feeling of approval and belonging.
From a few seats away, her best friends Fran and Lisette sent her slightly worried looks. Yumi didn’t blame them. Her own stomach churned as Natalie, the class president, erased the whiteboard and wrote the words “Theme: Goddess of Love” in big, bold letters.
Goddess of Love. Yumi gulped. At least they weren’t calling her a witch anymore. She glanced around the classroom, noting the curious but encouraging looks being bounced her way. Her classmates didn’t look horrified or scared of her, nor did they seem like they were making fun of her. Right now, they just seemed preoccupied with discussing possible menus for their class’ café/drinks booth for the school fair. No sign of them turning into a lynch mob and running her out of the campus yet.
Far from it, unbelievable as it was. They didn’t want her to keep her creepy abilities away from them. They wanted her creepy abilities to be the main feature of their section’s entry to the week-long school fair, which was going to be held in a little less than a month. They wanted her to use her power to tell love fortunes for their customers. Instead of relegating her to the background as part of the work and clean-up crew, they actually wanted her help in winning the prize for best booth this year. They needed her; she was important to them. The thought made her giddy.
She also had a chance to use her power to help people. At the moment, though, helping people didn’t seem as important as the chance to finally be noticed for herself. No more lurking in her sister’s shadow. No more being the dull, average, stick-thin, unruly-haired, clumsy backdrop against which Tala shown all the more brightly. She, Yumi, was finally going to be a star in her own right.
Emboldened by the notion, she raised her hand. “How about a fruit shake stand? We can do a sort of mystical, New Age thing to go with the fortune-telling.”
Again, to her surprise, the class responded positively to her suggestion. “Yeah, fruit shakes! My aunt runs a fruit shake shop in our street. I can probably get her to help.”
“New Age, huh? I like it. Complete with crystals and fountains and everything.”
“Lots of houseplants and flowers for decorations. Lucky charms, too.”
“We could all wear tie-dyed outfits and jewelry and stuff. Sort of like wholesome beach-wear.”
“Yeah! All the girls wearing bikinis—”
“Shut up, you perv. Hey, maybe we could do Tarot-card readings, too.”
“Not Tarot cards. Yumi’s going to read palms. That’s what she does. Isn’t that right, Yumi?”
Yumi felt herself nod in agreement. Her power wasn’t palm-reading, but it was close enough that she’d passed it off as that. One thing she’d learned, ever since the day she’d woken up with her skin humming from all the cords of glowing colors that were crisscrossing her body, was that people found it easier to accept things when they could put labels on them, making them familiar and convenient instead of frightening and strange. Her classmates assumed that palm-reading was what she did, and so palm-reading it was.
She felt her friends’ eyes on her again, and gave them a reassuring thumbs-up. As long as she gained proper control of her power and didn’t reveal too much of what her fingers saw, as long as she didn’t overdo it and end up puking all over their customers, then being the Goddess of Love could turn out to be a lot of fun. In fact, she could even say that she was born for the role.
She was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing until homeroom ended. As she rose to head to their next class, someone bumped into her from behind, making her lurch forward. A hand grabbed her arm to steady her, and a voice spoke in her ear: “You should’ve said no, Curly-Top.”
She stiffened and looked up at the boy standing next to her. Ren frowned down at her, his dark eyes underneath shaggy-looking bangs glittering with disapproval. Before she could pull away, he released her arm and flicked her on the forehead. “Think about what you’re getting yourself into.”
He walked off without a backward glance, shoving his hair off his face and slinging his backpack over his shoulder. He was soon swallowed up by the crowd of guys—and girls, Yumi noted with annoyance—that always seemed to surround him everywhere he went.
Yumi glowered at his back as she and her friends walked behind him. He remained oblivious, being too busy chatting with a couple of girls to notice her. She couldn’t help feeling hurt at his brusqueness. Sure, they’d spent the last three years ignoring each other, or verbally sniping at each other, or avoiding each other altogether. But ever since that early morning Christmas Mass when she’d thrown up at his feet and collapsed in his arms, he’d been treating her so much better. They’d been talking a lot more, and they’d started hanging out at each other’s houses again. It was almost like the way they used to be before their friendship ended abruptly three years ago.
Yumi sighed. Almost, but not quite, huh?
“Are you sure you can handle this, Yumi? I thought you said your power was still unstable or something. And you got so sick just last month, too.” Tall, lanky Lisette blew a lock of hair off her forehead and sent Yumi another worried look, for which Yumi was grateful, because it distracted her from thoughts about Ren.
“All I need is practice, that’s all.” When both Lisette and Fran looked skeptical, Yumi thought about what she’d said, and giggled. “Okay, that’s kind of weird. I can’t exactly go around grabbing people’s hands and spouting love fortunes, can I? They wouldn’t just call me a witch. They’d throw me in the loony bin altogether. My sister would kick my butt for embarrassing her.”
Lisette frowned. “She wouldn’t.”
“Oh, she would, but she’d be nice about it,” Yumi countered, grimacing. “Ate’s style is to kill with kindness. Like when she found out how those rumors about me got started.” Her sister had given her this look—a pitying, resigned, disappointed yet caring look, an “I-can’t-expect-anything-more-from-an-idiot-like-you-but-I’m-still-hoping” look—before telling Yumi to lie low for a while until the rumors died down. Honestly, Yumi wished Tala had yelled at her instead. It would have made her feel as stupid, useless and miniscule, but at least she’d have had a chance to yell back some.
Fran gasped a little, her dreamy, puppy-soft eyes going wide behind her glasses. “Uh oh. She’s not going to be happy when she learns that you went from ‘witch’ to ‘Goddess of Love’, is she?”
Yumi winced at the thought of letting her sainted sister down again. “No,” she admitted. “But this time, I’m sure I can—”
“Hey Yumi, work hard, okay? We’re counting on you.” Natalie gave her a thumbs-up as she moved past the trio to enter the classroom ahead of them.
“You’ll be an awesome Goddess of Love, Yumi,” another girl declared.
“Yeah, you betcha,” she replied, pumping her fist in the air. Then when her classmates had moved safely out of hearing range, she dropped her head to her chest and sighed.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay with this?” Lisette asked again.
Her head popped back up, sending brown curls springing outward like a burst of fireworks. “Of course I am. Like I said, I just need to practice,” she answered with a grin. From the corner of her eye, she saw Ren glance over at her and shake his head. It only served to strengthen her resolve.
She didn’t care if it was a mistake, she was so going to do this. After all, this was the one thing she could do that her sister couldn’t do better. Just stand back and watch, Ren, she thought. I’m going to be the best Goddess of Love, even if it kills me.