A Goddess Wears Orange, Ch. 15


The school was abuzz with excitement the next day. South Crescent High was throwing its doors wide open to friends and families, local officials and VIPs, and students from other schools, including rival sports teams who would be playing against the South Crescent High athletes in the exhibition games to be held at various times throughout the day. With the prospect of new customers, activities that had become routine in the last three days once again took on a fresh energy and tension—helped in part by the fact that there weren’t any more morning classes to slog through. The different sections and clubs were kicking things into higher gear. Today, the real competition for the best booth would begin.

What Yumi soon discovered was that the school was abuzz with something other than excitement. She’d walked into her classroom that morning, lugging her white goddess costume along with her backpack, and found herself the focus of several curious, sympathetic stares. She shrugged them off at first, but as they set about prepping their café, it became harder and harder for her to ignore how every now and then a girl would pat her on the shoulder or dart over to give her a quick, comforting hug, or a guy would nod at her and say things like “be strong” or “we’re with you, Yumi.”

She was standing beside her shrine, holding the dish she’d just filled with fresh oranges and looking thoroughly mystified after a couple more girls had offered her gestures of sympathy, when Lisette arrived. Waving goodbye to Erik, she spotted Yumi, and headed right toward her.

“Don’t pay any attention to what they’re saying, okay? Remember what your sister told you. Remember those sandwiches in seventh grade. Remember his threads,” she urged, grasping Yumi by the shoulders and giving her a little shake, causing one of the oranges to fall and roll away.

“What? What’re you talking about?” Yumi said bewilderedly just as Fran burst through the door, panting as if she’d run all the way to the classroom.

“Oh my gosh, Yumi, I just heard about it!” she said after she’d gotten her breath back and straightened her glasses. “Are you okay? Don’t worry, we don’t believe it for a second either.”

Yumi backed away from her friends, holding the oranges in front of her like a protective shield. “Okay, somebody explain to me right now what is going on.”

There was an awkward silence until one of her classmates cleared her throat nervously. “Yumi, some girls saw Ren and your sister Tala hugging each other in the garden yesterday.”

“The news is spreading all over school,” said another girl. “They said Ren confessed to Tala and she accepted his feelings, and now the two of them are dating.”

A couple of guys glanced at each other. “I don’t know. Playing two girls at once—and sisters, too? That doesn’t sound like Ren’s style to me,” said one to another.

The other guy shrugged. “Yeah, but you weren’t here the other day, so you didn’t see him go totally Casanova on Tala. Not that I blame him. That Tala is just so—mmf!” He peeled off the rag that had hit him square in the face and glared at the girl who’d flung it at him. “What’s your problem?”

“You are!” the girl retorted heatedly. “Yumi is right there. Can’t you be a little more sensitive?”

“Guys, it’s okay.” As every head turned toward her, Yumi set the oranges down and smiled brightly. “I already knew this would happen, remember? I told him to go talk to her myself. It’s no big deal, really. Let’s just show our support for him later at the exhibition game, all right?”

With that, she turned and calmly finished preparing the shrine, ignoring the concerned looks her classmates were sending her. But later, as she stood inside a cubicle in the washroom dressed only in her underwear, she found herself unable to move, immobilized by a mixture of uncertainty, embarrassment at what she was about to attempt, self-doubt, and plain, old-fashioned nerves. Her insecurities about herself and her unfavorable comparisons with her sister were rising up inside her, chanting their familiar mantras inside her head. I can’t do this; it’s impossible for me. I’m not as smart as Ate Tala. I’m not as graceful or confident or even half-way pretty. I’m just her stupid, clumsy, dorky, witch-haired freak of a sister. What makes me think I can do something as crazy as try to get Ren to notice me—especially since he already has someone like her? I might as well just give up.

A few weeks ago, she would have believed those words without question. A few weeks—even just a few days ago, she would have lain down in surrender, curled herself around her pain and longing, and allowed that giant eraser in the sky to erase her existence as if it had the right to. But she hadn’t known then what she knew now. Ren could lie to her with his words, but his threads never lied, and neither did his actions. And even though there was a chance that Yumi had gotten this horribly wrong—she couldn’t feel her own threads to be a hundred percent sure—she was willing to risk it. Although Tala had failed to mention the tiny, little detail that she and Ren had hugged each other, Yumi was willing to trust in her sister when she said she and Ren had come to an understanding, and that all would be well.

More importantly, she was willing to trust in herself. After all, she was Yumi, the Goddess of Love, who’d seen the great tapestry connecting all the pieces of life to one another, who’d held the threads of love and hate, hope and despair in her hands. Compared to that, getting one scared, stubborn, idiotic boy to finally admit his feelings for her should be a piece of cake.

“Yumi?” Fran tapped at the cubicle door. “Are you okay in there?”

“Yeah. I was just thinking,” Yumi replied, shaking herself out of her paralysis and taking the white skirt down from its hanger.

“Oh. Is it about your plan to beat your sister?”

Yumi surprised herself by laughing. “Good grief, no way. Ate Tala is so, so much better than me at being everything that Ate Tala is. If I try to beat her at it, I’ll lose for sure. So my plan is to win by being me. Nobody is better at that than me. Uh oh, I think I need some help with my costume.”

She emerged from the cubicle, and with Fran’s help, put on the golden bands, beaded golden belt and white chiffon veils, pinned the spray of flowers across her white bandeau and chiffon overskirt, and gathered her curls up, leaving tendrils to drift down her nape. She even put on some makeup and lipstick the way her sister had taught her last night. When one of the girls came in to announce that the opening-the-school fair-to-the-public ceremony had just finished and that people were now streaming into the building, Yumi stepped back and surveyed herself in the mirror one last time.

The Goddess of Love smiled back.

The corridors were ringing with laughter and lively conversation as the crowd explored the school, oohing and aahing over the decorations and the booths. Instead of returning immediately to their booth, Yumi went to a nearby balcony and gazed out at the sparkling, bustling quadrangle below. “Wow,” she muttered to herself. “Two days of this, huh?”


She glanced in the direction of the voice. Ren was heading toward her, still dressed in his varsity jersey, obviously having come straight from the ceremony welcoming the sports teams from the other schools who’d been invited to play in the exhibition games. He looked so handsome and dashing in the crimson, gold and white pants and matching T-shirt of South Crescent High that Yumi had to press a hand against her chest to keep her heart from popping right out. Turning to face him fully, she waited beside the balcony, and smiled as he drew near.

Be myself, be myself, she thought. I can’t win him by trying to be anyone else. “Hi, Ren,” she chirped. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be warming up for the game later?”

He slowed, his mouth hanging slightly open as his eyes traveled from the top of her head to her feet and back up again. “I, uh, yeah,” he stammered, looking away and rubbing the back of his neck as a flush crawled up his face. “Listen, Yumi, I need to talk to you.”

“Hmm? About what?” She tilted her head at him, her smile widening. “About you getting caught hugging my sister in the garden yesterday? Or about you lying to me about liking my sister?”

Ren winced, his flush draining away faster than it had appeared. “Both. Tala told me that when you two talked, you already knew. I—Yumi, you have to believe me, I didn’t mean to—”

“To what? To get your kicks from watching me turn myself inside out trying to get you and Ate together because I thought it would make you happy? That must have been fun, huh? Hey, check out Yumi! She’s so proud of being able to read threads, but she couldn’t even figure out that I’ve been lying to her all this time. She bought the hoax so totally she never even considered searching for my link to her sister to make sure. Man, what an idiot.” She wrapped her arms around herself and glared at him, letting him see just how hurt, angered and mortified she’d been by his deception.

“No, it wasn’t like that!” He took a step toward her, his hands reaching for her before dropping limply to his sides. “I never meant to make you feel stupid. I thought you’d figured it out long ago, since you’ve been reading my threads all this time. I—the truth is, I thought I didn’t have to hide it from you any longer, so I thought I could just show you—”

Her heart began to race. “Show me what, Ren?”

“Th-that I—I, um…What I mean is, I—I tried to tell you in so many ways that I—that I—”

“That you what? Come on, Ren, tell me.”

“That I c-care about you—and about our friendship,” he finished miserably.

Yumi’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh. This is about our friendship, is that it?”

He averted his gaze again, shoving his fingers through his hair and nearly undoing the ponytail holding his bangs up. The little yellow star on his hair-tie winked mockingly down at Yumi. “Look, can we talk about this somewhere else?” he pleaded in a low voice.

Yumi looked around as well, only then becoming aware that they’d drawn a small crowd. Their classmates were peeking all around doorway, watching them with mouths agape, while passersby turned and stared at them. Good grief, this is embarrassing, she thought, blushing herself.

Then Ren was unceremoniously shoved aside by a guy whom Yumi recognized was the senior team captain of the basketball team. “Step aside, Navarro, if you’re just going to choke up in front of her. We need to speak to the Goddess,” he said, as the rest of the basketball team moved to surround her, edging Ren to the back of the throng.

A moment later, Yumi stared at the team captain. “You want me to what?”

“What the hell?” Ren said from somewhere in the back.

“Give us your Goddess blessing,” the team captain repeated.

“So you want me to kiss a bunch of oranges and give them to you guys?” She searched the eager male faces around her for some sign of awareness of how ridiculous their request was, and found none. “But why?”

Another guy grinned. “You should’ve seen Navarro yesterday during practice, after you’d given him your Goddess blessing. He was on fire. He got in so many shots it was like magic,” he said, jerking a thumb at the ferociously scowling Ren.

“Yeah, and he was practically cuddling that orange whenever he wasn’t playing,” another guy added. “That thing must have some powerful good luck, and we want some of that, too.”

“Would you lay off about the orange already?” Ren snarled. Yumi swallowed a giggle. He’d turned so red, he looked as if he ought to have been arranged on a platter and served with butter.

As the team pressed around her, she backed up and raised both hands in front of her. “I—I’m sorry, but I need those oranges and I don’t have enough to give away,” she said, causing their faces to fall in comical disappointment.

“I believe we can help you there, gentlemen. Our fruit-shake café does offer plenty of other selections besides oranges, and each shake comes blessed by our gorgeous Goddess of Love.”

The head of the Marketing Committee materialized at her side, smiling unctuously, and the basketball team ended up ordering several fruit-shakes, to be blessed and delivered personally at the basketball court by the Goddess of Love before the exhibition game began. Negotiations concluded, the team departed while the Marketing Committee head trotted back to the café, a lengthy order slip in one hand and a fistful of cash in the other. As he was dragged off by his teammates, Ren shot Yumi a complicated look over his shoulder—frustration and remorse mixed with the icy anger she now recognized as jealousy. Clenching her fists, Yumi sucked in a breath and took a step forward.

“Ren Navarro!”

Her voice cracked like a whip, slicing through the din in the corridor. It caused Ren, along with the rest of the team and several total strangers who just happened to be nearby, to stop dead in their tracks. They turned simultaneously as Yumi walked through the crowd toward Ren. She moved with her head held high, her shoulders straight and her hips swaying seductively, making the beads dangling from her golden belt swing hypnotically and her chiffon overskirt and veils flow around her like mist. She let a small smile play on her lips, a surge of power flowing through her as she noticed people stepping back and letting her pass, effectively clearing a path between her and Ren.

Her eyes, though, never left Ren’s face. His own eyes had bugged out, his jaw once again brushing the tops of his shoes, but as she drew closer, she noticed his gaze drift downward to her bare midriff before darting back up to a point above her left shoulder as red tinged his cheeks. “W-what is it?” he muttered when she stopped and stood in front of him.

“You broke Rule Number Three, but I will be gracious and let your lapse slide just this once,” she announced in a clear voice.

He frowned at her. “I broke what? What’s Rule Number Three?”

She gave him another enigmatic smile. “Goddess of Love Rule Number Three, of course. Have faith in your Goddess. Love understands, and love forgives,” she said, looking into his eyes so he could see how much she meant it. As he stared at her, she lifted her hand expectantly, and he blinked down at the appendage in confusion. “Well?” she demanded imperiously, arching an eyebrow. “Hurry up and ask my forgiveness already. You’re wasting time.”

Understanding dawned, and he took her hand and brought it slowly to his lips, his dark eyes never leaving hers. “Forgive me, Goddess?” he said huskily, his lips brushing against the back of her hand with each word, making her flush and shiver all over.

She gave him a lofty smile and drew her hand away. “I will consider it. Now go away. We have a café to run.” She turned and walked away, sending up a silent prayer of thanks that her shaky knees hadn’t spilled her onto the floor. Behind her, the stunned silence exploded into curious murmuring, and Yumi heard someone ask, “Well, that was thrilling. Was that a skit or something?”

When she got back to their room, she found that her classmates’ sympathy had turned into amazement. “Wow, Yumi, what was that?” one of the girls said. “You were so regal all of a sudden.”

“Just like a Goddess. And did you see the look on Ren’s face? For a moment there, I thought he was going to faint,” another girl put in, laughing.

“This is your plan, isn’t it? That was just beautiful.” Lisette grinned from ear to ear and gave her a thumbs-up while Fran giggled uncontrollably at the image of Ren swooning away like a lady overcome by the vapors.

Yumi smiled like a cat. “Oh, I’m not done yet. By the time I’m through with him, he’ll be proclaiming his undying love for me from the rooftops.”

About an hour later, she was feeling less confident, mainly because she was too busy fighting off the pounding headache and nausea. She sat hunched up in her shrine, clutching an orange in both hands and taking deep breaths, her eyes screwed shut and cold sweat dripping down her forehead, while her classmates and their customers watched her with rising concern. “Is she okay? She looks kind of sick,” one of the customers commented.

“We need to get Ren,” Yumi heard Fran say worriedly. “He’s the only one who knows how to make her feel better.”

“I’ll go fetch him from the court,” one of the boys offered.

“No!” Yumi released her grip around the orange long enough to raise a hand like a traffic cop, since shaking her head was out of the question. “He’s busy. I’ll be fine. A…plastic bag, please?”

She tried to straighten up, thinking to repeat the cleansing process from the candle-flame stage, then knocked the orange across the room when she clapped both hands over her mouth and swallowed desperately against the bile welling up in her throat. The next instant, she found herself swept right off her perch and into a familiar pair of arms, while a hand pried one of her hands free and closed around it, palm to palm. “Let me in, Yumi,” a voice whispered, and with a sigh of relief, she dropped her mental shield and fell into his welcoming threads.

His light is coming back. Thank God, she thought as she floated through his threads, sending her own, golden waves of love into him. When she came back into her body, she didn’t open her eyes at first, content to just snuggle up against him and listen to his heartbeat, despite how uncomfortably damp his jersey felt underneath her cheek. Then her lips curved upward impishly, and she tilted her face and lapped at the side of his neck with her tongue, tasting the salt of his sweat.

When he went rigid, she giggled and drew away from him, rising to her feet. He remained sitting on the floor, staring up at her in shock. “Thanks for coming, Ren,” she said, smiling. “You got here right on time.”

“I—you—you just licked—” His voice cracked, and his hand came up to cover the spot on his neck that she’d licked almost protectively.

“Hmm? What’re you talking about?” She reached a hand down to pull him up. “You guys were in the middle of warm-ups? How did you get here so fast, anyway?”

He got up, still eyeing her—not exactly warily but carefully. “I just figured you must have read well over four love fortunes by now and that you’re probably overloading, so I just came here.”

“I was. Thanks again.” She gave him one last smile, reaching out to touch his chest just above his heart with her fingers—an unintentional move on her part, but somehow it felt right. She turned toward their customers again, but stopped when his hand grabbed her wrist.

“Yumi, why don’t you come with me?” he muttered, once again not quite meeting her eyes. “You can stay at the court and watch us. The game will start in about an hour anyway, so—”

“Hey, hold on, you can’t take her away,” one of their customers protested. “I’m still waiting for her to read me my love-fortune.”

Ren fixed him a cool look. “Get a numbered stub and come back later. She’ll just get sick again if I’m not beside her.”

“Oh yeah? Who are you anyway? Her boyfriend?” the customer grumbled.

“You don’t know?” Smirking, Ren pulled Yumi closer to him. “I’m the Goddess’ Consort.”

Yumi lowered her face to keep him from noticing the redness on her cheeks and the delighted smile on her lips. The customer continued to complain, though, while Ren got dangerously colder by the minute, until Natalie and the Marketing Committee head stepped in to give the customer his stub and a coupon for a free shake. They also managed to convince Ren to go back to his team by telling him that the shakes they’d ordered were almost ready anyway, and that Yumi would be delivering the shakes instead of reading love fortunes, so there would be no chance of her overloading.

As Ren begrudgingly turned to leave, Yumi called his name, and when he glanced back at her, she gave him an approving smile. “Congratulations, Ren. You’ve proven yourself worthy by obeying Rule Number Five.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “That so? And what’s Rule Number Five?”

“Goddess of Love Rule Number Five: Give your Goddess your sincere sacrifice as an offering, and she will reward you in return. Now shoo. Your team’s waiting for you.” She deliberately turned her back on him, but judging from the laughter-filled expressions on her female classmates’ faces, Ren had responded to her seeming dismissal of him exactly the way she wanted him to.

Later, Yumi walked a little ways behind the Marketing Committee head and another guy from their class, each of them balancing trays of fruit-shakes, as they made their way down the path toward the covered basketball court. Even though the basketball exhibition game wasn’t scheduled to start in at least half an hour yet, there was already a bit of a crowd sitting up on the bleachers, while their guest rival team from St. Anthony Academy had also brought in their own supporters, all dressed in their school colors of blue and green. Yumi couldn’t help but notice though that a lot of the people sitting on the home-team side were girls. In fact, she recognized a good number of them as the sources of the infatuated rose-threads connected to Ren.

Oh, his fans are here, she thought. Perfect. I want them to see this.

Spotting the fruit-shake-bearing trio, the home-team cheered, especially when the Marketing Committee head and Yumi’s other classmate parted to reveal her walking across the court toward them. She smiled coyly and put a little more swing into her hips, just as the Marketing Committee head had coached her, which made their guests from St. Anthony perk up and watch, too. Other than at the parade, it was the first time she’d been at the center of that kind of admiring attention, and she had to admit, after the initial panic had passed it felt kind of good.

The members of the South Crescent High basketball team surrounded them, and she spent the next few minutes kissing the cold, wet sides of the paper cups before giving the fruit-shakes to their owner, together with a flirtatious smile and a blessing from the Goddess. Ren hung back near the bench though, his expression dark and forbidding as he apparently attempted to puncture the basketball with his bare hands. Finally, she took the last fruit-shake and went over to Ren.

“Good grief, aren’t you in need of some joy and good cheer,” she remarked with a laugh.

Ren glared frostily at her. “What the hell are you doing, Yumi? Did he put you up to this?” He jerked his head toward the Marketing Committee head, who was talking with the team captain and passing a rolled-up sign over to him.

Yumi shrugged. “He said it fit the role. Now if you’ll excuse me, we’ve got a café to advertise.” She kissed the cup and gave it to Ren, who looked as if he’d been handed a live cobra.

The Marketing Committee head and her other classmate had already crossed the court toward the guest team and were waving her over. The three of them distributed flyers and plugged their Goddess Café to the high heavens, with the Marketing Committee head freely insinuating that with a large enough purchase, they, too, could get to spend a few minutes with South Crescent High’s hot, little Goddess of Love, regardless of whether or not they wanted their love fortunes read. Yumi continued to smile even as she sent dagger-looks at the Marketing Committee head, vowing to call him out soon over his disturbing tendency to act like her pimp.

“Miss Goddess, do you have a boyfriend?” one of the guys from St. Anthony asked in a voice that echoed across the court.

She paused, her eyes automatically searching out Ren, who’d gone completely stiff even though he kept his back to her. Turning back to the questioner, she replied, “I kind of think I do.”

“Huh? What does that even mean?”

She sighed. “It means my boyfriend kind of doesn’t know he’s my boyfriend yet.”

“What?” The boy laughed. “Then he’s kind of an idiot, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he kind of is.” Yumi smothered a laugh herself when Ren shot her a look of outrage. “But since I’m as big an idiot as he is, I kind of think we go well together,” she said ruefully.

She could feel Ren’s eyes upon her as she trailed behind her two classmates after the Marketing Committee head had finished persuading the guest team to visit their café. Drawing in a breath, she spun on her heel and walked back toward the South Crescent High basketball team, coming to a stop just several feet away. All eyes turned to her, and for a moment, panic made her head feel as if it was full of white clouds. Swallowing, she straightened her shoulders, planted her hands on her hips, and called out: “Ren Navarro! Come over here.”

Ren frowned thunderously, and Yumi saw white clouds go past her vision again. Guessing what was going to happen next, his teammates shoved him forward, and he reluctantly came to her. “What is it this time?” he grumbled, glowering at everything but her.

“Kneel,” she ordered.

He speared her with a look. “What did you say?”

“On your knees, Ren. Right here in front of me.”

He regarded her as though she’d suddenly started singing Chinese opera. She stared right back, her gaze steady, faintly challenging and utterly serious. She knew very well how difficult this was going to be for him. Ren Navarro, star player of the South Crescent High basketball team, the fearless Mr. Cool-as-Ice whose pride was matched only by his stubbornness, kneel before this clumsy, witchy-haired weirdo whose only claims to fame were a bunch of nasty rumors and a gorgeous sister nobody believed she was related to?

He’s not going to do it, a voice whispered as the silence stretched thin. He’ll turn right around and ignore me. I’ve asked too much of him this time.

He closed his eyes and sighed loudly, then to her shock, he went down on both knees, kneeling like a penitent before her. But when he lifted his head toward her, his expression was anything but penitent. “Well?” he barked.

She jumped, trying to collect her scattered wits. The shock had nearly unglued her. He’d done it. He’d actually knelt before her, right in front of all these people. Good grief, why did you do it, Ren? she wanted to cry out.

And the answer came to her: Because I want him to, and he always finds a way to give me what I want. 

She closed the distance between them, so that less than a foot separated the two of them. On his knees, his face was about level with her chest, and she wondered if he could hear the pounding of her heart. “P-put your hands around my waist,” she told him, then hastily explained, “so you won’t lose your balance.”

His lashes lowered as his hands slid across her bare skin, large and warm and slightly rough. Now she knew for sure that he could feel the shivers running through her. “This is your punishment for breaking Goddess Rule Number Seven,” she announced. “Never approach your Goddess while wearing some other female’s personal token.”

Before he could respond, she yanked the yellow star hair-tie out of his hair. “Ow!” he yelped as his bangs flopped over his face, almost completely obscuring both his eyes and nose.

She shoved the yellow hair-tie onto her wrist. Then she reached up into her own curls and undid a black elastic with a roundish spiral made of orange and green rhinestones, which from afar resembled an orange with a stem. With gentle fingers, she scraped his bangs together, gathering them into a ponytail at the top of his head. His eyes had drifted shut during her ministrations, but shot wide open again when she murmured in a voice only he could hear: “If you’re thinking about pressing your mouth to my stomach, you’re going to have to work a little harder for it.”

He looked up at her, his face perfectly matching the crimson of his jersey. But his dark eyes burned into her, branding both a question and a promise in her mind. With his head tilted back, she had to lean over him a little more to finish twisting the elastic into his hair. The position allowed him to get a little of his own back when he blew gently on her chest just above the edge of her bandeau, making her gasp and lean back, blushing furiously.

“Th-there. That looks pretty good,” she said breathlessly, patting the orange hair-tie in his hair. Then she bent down to drop a kiss on his forehead before tugging him to his feet. “Go on and win, Ren. Your Goddess is with you.” She gave him one last smile before she turned and ran back to join her waiting classmates, who were the only ones who witnessed her covering her flaming face with both hands and moaning in delayed reaction the instant she was out of sight of the basketball court.

“Holy crap,” her classmate said, looking over at her with owl-eyes. “I gotta say, that was pretty dang hot, Yumi. Wish the others could have seen it.”

“OhhhhmyyyyGooooood.” Yumi stopped walking altogether to fold up into a ball and moan into her hands again. “Did I really do…all that? Good grief, I acted like such a tramp!”

“There, there.” The Marketing Committee head patted her on the shoulder. “It’s not really that bad. Think of it this way: We picked you to play the Goddess of Love because of your palm-reading ability. Finding out you’ve got a real-live goddess of love and seduction inside you, just waiting for the chance to step out in the most sizzling way ever, is just a cool bonus.”

Yumi cast him a jaded eye. “You’re no help at all.”

“I wasn’t?” He actually looked pleased as he began herding them in the direction of the gym. When Yumi asked why they weren’t going back to the café, he stuck his hands into his pockets and pulled out more bundles of flyers, grinning like a shark. “Because we’re going to pay a visit to the softball, volley ball and judo teams to offer them the same deal we gave the basketball team: good-luck fruit shakes blessed by our smoking hot Goddess of Love. So roll out the moves, Goddess. I want to hear sizzling the minute they lay eyes on you.”

For a moment, all Yumi and the other boy could do was gawk at him. “You’re brilliant, you know that?” she finally said, shaking her head. “Terrifying, but brilliant.”

“I know, right?” The Marketing Committee head beamed. “It’s about time you appreciated my genius. And by the way, Yumi, speaking as a guy…ahem. I don’t know if you’re just pranking him or what, but be careful. Ren’s not the kind of guy you want to push too far, you know?”

The Goddess of Love smiled. “I know. I’m counting on it.”



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