The next few days fell into a pattern. With one week left before school fair, time had become a scarce resource, with their schedules crammed from top to bottom with classes; working feverishly with the Physical Arrangements Committee to finish the props and decorations on time; and for Ren, practicing for the basketball exhibition game. Since Ren’s Goddess-training regimen for her included regular meditation sessions every morning, Yumi was forced to wake up earlier than usual. And even though they were both tired by the time they came home, Ren still made Yumi practice blocking him off with her visualization technique for at least an hour, sometimes even longer, until it was all she could do not to drop off to sleep where she stood.
Afterward, he would either walk her home—or if they were hanging out at her place, linger a while longer—so he could talk to Tala. Yumi always made sure to disappear during those times, something she was only too glad to do. With each passing day, it was getting harder and harder to watch the two of them together, to see him looking so easy and comfortable in her sister’s company, to know that her own time with Ren was running out and he’d soon be out of her reach completely.
She beat back her jealousy and simmering resentment of her sister by reminding herself of how happy Ren had been feeling in the past few days. His threads had a lightness and warmth that she hadn’t felt before they struck their deal. And, to her everlasting surprise, feeling his happiness made her happy. She wanted him to be happy, and she had no doubt that it was her sister who had given his energy that extra glow. So to keep him feeling that way, she did everything she could think of to get the two of them together—arrange “accidental” encounters for them at school or at home; sing Ren’s praises to her sister; nag Tala non-stop until she promised to watch the basketball exhibition game; and in general work up to that inevitable climax: making sure Ren got to confess to Tala properly, and getting them together in time for Students’ Night.
Yumi did it, even though it was killing her. Even though she was starting to have crying jags at odd moments, forcing her to flee to the sanctuary of the garden, either alone or the company of her friends. Even though sometimes Yumi could swear she hated her sister—her gorgeous, smart, elegant, wonderful, popular, perfect sister, adored by everyone, including the boy she wanted.
On the bright side, though, her training was starting to pay off. She was getting better and better at imagining her orange-peel shield when she was connecting, and holding it steady until she ended the connection. Soon, she found that she could “peel” a strip off of her golden-orange shield to allow her to feel the love-threads radiating from his hands—and only those threads in particular. It enabled her to read love fortunes without having to invade a person’s deepest, most intimate core, not to mention it made it easier for her to seal up her orange shield and break the link.
Her crowing about that to Ren one night led to their next fight. “Don’t get carried away. We still haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to deal with sensory overload,” he cautioned. “Remember, you’re going to have to connect with hundreds of people for five days straight. Your orange technique won’t work if you’re mentally exhausted.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “There you go again, raining on my parade. Oh, I know what’ll cheer you up! I’m going to tell you your love-fortune.”
His expression grew troubled. “You don’t have to.”
“Of course, I do. I can’t believe I haven’t done it yet,” she replied breezily. “Let’s see. I still can’t feel your love-thread—and I still don’t get why, it must be some kind of glitch—but I do feel a lot of love-threads attached to you. So many girls like you, and I’m sure you know some of them.”
“There’s May-Anne, Lisa, Chenelyn from next door, Rowena, Lalaine and Gail from II-Jade, several freshmen but you probably don’t know them, and—oh, and Natalie, our very own class president. You can’t tell just by looking at her, but she’s secretly liked you for—”
“Shut up, Yumi!”
She gaped at him, stunned that he’d just shouted at her. He glared back, his face like granite. “I didn’t need to know. I’m not supposed to know. Whether Natalie likes me—or all those other girls—that’s their private business, their secret to share. Not yours. Do you actually think I like listening to you throw these girls’ feelings around like they were so much confetti?”
Yumi felt as if he’d just slapped her. “I—no, but I didn’t think—”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it? You don’t think, least of all about the other person. Most of the time, you’re just showing off.”
“Am I? You enjoy showing off that you know someone’s deepest secrets, and you fool yourself into thinking that what you’re doing is helping that person, when actually, you’re just doing it because it makes you feel special.”
She shot to her feet, angry tears springing into her eyes. “That’s it, I’m not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth me again. I am so done with you.”
With that, she grabbed her schoolbag and marched out of his house toward hers, so furious her eyeballs felt like they were about to pop. Just as she got to their gate, she heard him call her name, followed by the sound of footsteps. She’d whirled around, ready to give him another tongue-lashing if necessary, when the gate opened to reveal Ate Tala standing there with a curious look on her face.
“What on earth? Are you two fighting again?” her sister wanted to know.
“No,” muttered Yumi.
“Yes,” said Ren at the same time.
Tala sighed. “Forget I asked.”
Huffing, Yumi moved past her to enter the house, leaving her sister to deal with the aggravation that was Ren—it’s like she’s been waiting for him anyway, she thought resentfully.
“Yumi!” Ren yelled again.
“What?” she snapped over her shoulder.
“Don’t forget to meditate,” he told her. “I’ll meet you tomorrow near the gym after our practice.”
She rolled her eyes and flounced off. But as the week progressed, it turned out that Ren had been right all along. Strangely enough, she had Fran’s mystery artist—and in a way, Fran herself—to thank for that particularly difficult lesson.
Like Yumi, Fran had not been having an easy time lately. Earlier, she’d submitted a story she’d written to the Creative Writers’ Circle, hoping to have it included in the literary anthology they planned to launch during the fair, only to have her story ripped to pieces in public. Right around the same time, she’d discovered Angelo, the boy she’d fallen in love with, in the library getting pretty close with one of the most popular girls in the school. On top of all that, her mystery artist had all but abandoned her. Honestly, Yumi was surprised that Fran was still functional. If it had been her, she’d have locked herself in her room until the school fair was over.
Without telling either Fran or Lisette, Yumi hunted Angelo down, intending to flay him for hurting Fran. He was not what she’d expected though, but she didn’t let that stop her from grabbing his hand, foregoing any mental blocking techniques.
A short while later, she stared at him in utter bewilderment. “Why didn’t you tell her? Do you know how miserable she’s been all this time? Ugh, you know what? I’m going to find her right now, and I’m going to tell her everything. Let’s see you dig your way out of this.”
“I know. I hear you. And I’m asking you now to leave it alone,” Angelo replied with quiet dignity, pushing his glasses up his nose and looking her straight in the eye. “I don’t really care how you did it, but I hate that you stole this knowledge from me. I wanted Fran to be the first to know how I feel about her, because she deserves to be the first. But now you’ve taken that away from her. If you tell her the truth about me now, you probably won’t hurt anyone, but you’ll be stealing something precious from both us that you won’t ever be able to return.”
His words hit her like a punch to the gut. Not even Ren’s angry tirade had hammered the truth into her so effectively. Ren later found her hiding in the garden, sobbing. At first, she’d been too ashamed to tell him what happened, but he eventually managed to prize the story out of her. To her amazement, he didn’t breathe a single word of “I told you so,” even though she never deserved it more. Instead, he let her cry on his shoulder until she was all dried out, mopped up her face with a handkerchief, then kissed her on the forehead.
He gave her a journal the very next evening—an elegant, cloth-bound notebook printed with orange and white swirls—and told her to write down all her thoughts and observations related to her power. As part of her Goddess-training, of course. When she opened the journal in the privacy of her room, she found the words “I’m sorry” scrawled in pencil on the very first page.
An hour later, something new was written in her journal:
Stealing is stealing, no matter what’s stolen or how it’s done.
And a little later:
Revealing what I accidentally learn is NOT the same as returning stolen goods.
A few days later:
There are always consequences. For me and for the other person. I can only see the present, not the future.
And much later still:
Love is a tapestry, and we are all connected. If I read the tapestry, may I do so with love. If I weave my threads into it, may I weave with love. If I speak the words given to me, may I speak only words of love.