The Goddess of Love walked the halls of South Crescent High.
Everywhere she went, heads turned, eyes widened, and jaws touched the ground in worshipful reverence. Wherever she bestowed her generous smiles, blood rushed, hearts pounded, and voices were rendered momentarily silent. Sighs and longings bloomed in her wake. Wishes and fantasies were laid at her feet. Lights twinkled from camera phones that sought to capture her image. And most importantly, as far as the Marketing Committee head was concerned, fruit-shakes were bought and sold in her honor.
"How long do we have to do this?" Yumi whispered to the Marketing Committee head as they strolled through the corridors. There were more people today than ever before as a lot of families and students from the other schools took advantage of the fact that it was Saturday to check out the South Crescent High school-fair. Some of the town's businesspeople could also be seen perusing the booth offerings, and rumor had it that some talent scouts were prowling around, looking for potential recruits among the clubs that would be performing that day. For the students, the last day of the fair was D-Day and Judgment Day rolled into one. Judging for the best booth would take place that afternoon, and later, the Battle of the Bands would be held, with the winner being given the privilege of performing for Students' Night. On a more personal level, today was the last chance for the dateless and desperate to alter their status in time for Valentine's Day and/or Students' Night, which meant brisk business for the love-and-romance-themed booths.
"Until your partner shows up, that's how long. Now stop looking so worried and smile, Goddess," the Marketing Committee head whispered back as he pressed flyers into the unsuspecting hands of people who had stopped to stare at the Goddess.
Yumi sighed and did as he said. It was all she had done for a while now—just promenade around the school looking as Goddess-like as she could, while the Marketing Committee head and three of their classmates trailed behind distributing flyers. They had already circled the second and third floors, and were now circumnavigating the first floor again while rethinking touring the quadrangle again—a serious issue since they were running low on flyers.
In short, she'd done everything except her actual job. Almost two hours had passed since the café opened, and she'd only read four love-fortunes before she realized she didn't dare do any more. They'd had to pass numbered stubs around again, and the Marketing Committee head had suggested that if the Goddess of Love couldn't use her power, then she would just have to make her presence felt in the mortal realm. Unfortunately, the list of clients waiting for their love-fortune reading was growing longer, and it wouldn't be long before complaints started coming in. Which would be bad. But since the alternative was for her to puke her guts out, pass out, and remain out of commission for the rest of the day, she didn't have much choice.
The problem? The Goddess Consort was nowhere to be found.
Ren, where are you? she wondered for about the hundredth time. She'd sent him increasingly frantic texts, none of which he responded to. She'd tried calling him, only to be told that the "subscriber could not be reached." None of the others had better luck contacting him. Ren's absence was a black hole that was inexorably sucking them into the void, and she prayed he'd show up soon before disaster struck.
When the others asked her if she had any idea what had happened to him, she found to her horror that she didn't know what to say. Guilt and hurt were eating at her, and it was getting harder and harder for her to keep on smiling. It's my fault, a voice whispered inside her head. I shouldn't have confessed to him. Now I've gone and traumatized him, and it's the class who'll have to pay.
And behind that voice was a wounded, frightened thought: Have I lost him for good this time?
She became aware that she'd stopped walking altogether and was just staring at the floor. Her vision blurred, and when she blinked her eyes clear, two small, wet splotches had appeared on the floor. Oh no, my mascara. Sniffling, she surreptitiously but very carefully wiped her eyes with her fingers, picturing her sister's lips pursing with disapproval for ruining her hard work.
"You okay?" the Marketing Committee head asked as her other classmates came over.
"Yeah. Just something in my eye," Yumi said with forced lightness. "I think I'm up to reading love-fortunes again. Can we go back now? We must have a pretty long line of clients waiting by now."
"But what if you get sick? Ren still isn't around to help you," asked one of their classmates.
"Where is he anyway?" another one grumbled. "It's not like him to skip out on his job."
"What if he doesn't show up at all?"
The question dropped like an elephant pushed off a cliff right into their midst, silencing them with its awfulness. Laurence and his offer flitted through Yumi's mind. Why not? a voice whispered. He said he was willing, and Ren wouldn't care, right? Something in her face must have reflected her thoughts, because one of their classmates asked, "Yumi, you know anyone else who can help you?"
She opened her mouth to tell them about Laurence, then closed it again. Ren would care. She knew better than anyone, including the boy himself, how much he hated the thought of Laurence getting anywhere near her. She didn't want to make him feel even worse than she already had. Besides, her own heart rebelled at the idea of exchanging energies that way with anyone but Ren. I don't want Laurence. I want him, she thought plaintively. He'll come. He'll definitely come, I just know it.
"If you say so," her classmate responded, and Yumi realized she'd spoken those last words out loud.
"There, see? The Goddess has faith in her Consort and so should you, you unbelievers." The Marketing Committee head pocketed his phone, then prodded Yumi to get her moving again, with the others shuffling behind them like dejected zombies. "Look, why don't we just walk around for a few minutes longer and give out—oh, we're out of flyers? Well, why don't we just walk around and, er, enjoy what the fair has to offer? For instance, I don't think we've seen those booths yet."
Yumi glanced over at him, mildly puzzled at his odd behavior. Still, she couldn't muster the energy to ask him about it. She was too busy missing Ren, wanting Ren, being seriously annoyed with Ren, and feeling as if she would dissolve into an oozing puddle of terror and humiliation if she ever came face to face with Ren again. All those emotions were crashing together inside her all at the same time until she felt herself turning numb in sheer self-defense.
Ren, where are you? If you're going to avoid me from now on, you could at least be around to do it.
They'd reached the school's main hallway when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned, her "professional" Goddess-smile firmly in place, and found a lanky boy grinning lazily at her. He had laughing eyes and, in defiance of the school's rules, shoulder-length, almost girlishly pretty dark hair. He also had a guitar slung across his back and an empty shopping bag in his hand.
"Miss Goddess? Nice to meet you. Name's Linc. I was in Ren's section last year." He offered his hand to her without the slightest hesitation.
She shook his hand, smiling secretly to herself. Ah, Linc. Somebody'll be listening very closely to you when you perform later at the Battle of the Bands. "I'm Yumi. Nice to meet you, too," she said out loud.
Still grinning, he released her but not before he'd slipped the straps of the shopping bag around her wrist. "You're going to need this. Later." He thrust his hands into his pockets and loped away.
She stared after him, then at the bag. Maybe he'd confused her with somebody else? She met her classmates' questioning looks and shrugged. "That was weird," one of her classmates remarked.
They walked on, the shopping bag swinging from her wrist, already half-forgotten. But a short while later, she became aware of a low murmuring coming from further ahead in the corridor. People were whispering and turning their heads to look at something. Then her classmates began to whisper themselves.
"Hey, check that guy out," said one. "He must be planning to confess to someone."
"Aw, how sweet," cooed another.
A boy was leaning against the wall several feet away, holding a single red rose. Yumi recognized him as one of Ren's basketball teammates. He seemed to be waiting for someone, but when he caught sight of them, he pushed himself off and headed toward them. Blinking, Yumi ground to a halt, then glanced around nervously. No, she was right; the boy was looking straight at her.
He came right up to her, smiling hugely. Then he dropped down to one knee and presented the rose to her. "For you, Goddess," he announced while her classmates and the people nearby gasped.
Hesitantly, she took the flower, but before she could even thank him, he got up and walked away. Recovering from their shock, her classmates crowded excitedly around her. "That was so romantic!" one of them squealed. "I didn't know you and that guy were close. Are you going to answer him?"
"Um, I don't think he's confessing to me," Yumi replied slowly. She was staring at the object that had been packed into a clear plastic bag and tied around the rose. It was a small chocolate candy in a yellow paper cup. A Curly Top candy.
Only Ren ever called her that. He'd named her after both her hair and the chocolates she'd devoured by the boxful when she was a kid. No one else could have known how much she loved the cheap, decidedly un-fancy but extremely tasty candies except Ren. She'd begged, cajoled and coerced him into buying her Curly Tops after she'd gone through her own allowance often enough in the past.
Ren, this is from you, isn't it? Smiling, she brought the rose to her nose and breathed in its fragrance, feeling as if her heart had grown too big for her ribcage. Maybe he wasn't as put off by her confession as she'd thought. Maybe this rose was his way of telling her he was accepting her feelings. She just wondered why he hadn't given her the rose himself, but no matter. She promised herself she'd give him a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek as thanks for the rose the instant he showed up.
"Come on, let's keep moving. We're blocking the way here." Once again, the Marketing Committee head nudged her forward, and their entourage continued on its aimless journey.
Then about five minutes later, it happened again. They were wandering around in the quadrangle when another member of the basketball team appeared from out of nowhere, got down on one knee in front of her, and offered her a red rose. "For you, Goddess," the boy addressed her, but this time, she managed to keep him from leaving long enough to ask who'd told him to give her the rose.
The boy grinned. "Sorry. I'm not allowed to say."
Sure you're not. Fingering the Curly Top candy tied to the rose, she surveyed her surroundings, trying in vain to find him among the sea of faces.
You're here, aren't you? I want to see you. Where are you, Ren? I want to see you.
Another five minutes passed, and the same thing happened. By now, her classmates had gotten the idea and were gleefully anticipating when and where the next boy would appear to give her a rose. Sure enough, when she stepped onto the path in the middle of the quadrangle, the basketball team captain was waiting at the other end. He walked toward her, his air of formality, not to mention the red rose and the pink gift-bag he was holding, drawing all eyes toward them.
Ignoring the crowd watching them with interest, the team captain knelt and held out the rose and gift-bag to her. "For you, Goddess," he said gruffly. "From a guy who says he's making up for the three Valentine's Days he missed."
Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry, think of your mascara! Yumi chanted in her head as she took the rose, the Curly Top swinging in its plastic bag, and the gift-bag. "Th-thank you," she managed around the lump in her throat. "Where is he? Please, I have to know."
He looked up from brushing the dirt off his knee and smiled. "He's around here somewhere. Don't worry, you'll see him soon."
When he left, her classmates gathered around again. "This is amazing. This is just…so…amazing!" one of them gushed.
Yumi silently agreed. Her hands were shaking as she added the rose to the three others now stashed in the shopping bag, the purpose of which was quickly becoming clear to her. She examined the gift-bag next. Hanging from the strap was a tag, with the words "To Yumi: Happy Valentine's Day. Sorry it's not a real cat. From Ren" written inside. She opened the bag and pulled out a stuffed orange kitty half the size of and roughly the same shape as a basketball. The plush-kitty had a white underbelly, white mittens, and a cheeky expression. She gave it a one-armed hug; it was just about the fluffiest thing she'd ever held. At the sight of it, her classmates went into paroxysms of "it's so cuuuuute!", and as they passed the plush-cat around to admire it, Yumi unfolded the white piece of paper that had been tucked inside the bag along with the kitty.
It was a note, written in the neat, no-nonsense script she recognized as Ren's present handwriting. The note wasn't addressed to anyone. Instead, it read:
I got this when we were 12, 2 months after our fight. You were avoiding me, and my own feelings were messed up. But when I saw this, I remembered you wanted a cat but couldn't have one because your mom and Tala are allergic. I wanted to give this to you on Valentine's Day, but I was afraid you'd just ignore it. But I kept it anyway, just in case I found the guts to give it to you some day.
By the way, this guy's half of a matched pair. See the Velcro on his left paw? The other one is mine. I named her Yumi.
Yumi's hands shook harder, and she crushed the note to her chest. He got me a cat. I wanted a cat, and he found a way to give me one, even if he had to do it three years later. The image of twelve-year-old Ren sitting alone in his room with the paired kitties and thinking of her made her heart contract. When the kitty found its way back to her, she hugged it so hard tears threatened to spurt out of her eyes in shining arcs, and she bit her lip hard to stave off the inevitable ruination of her makeup.
"What I want to know is," one of her classmates wondered out loud, "who's behind all this?"
The Marketing Committee head slapped a hand on his forehead, making sure to shift his phone to his other hand before he did so. "Who the heck else do you think it could be? Look, let's get moving. We need to go to the second floor right now."
Yumi sent him a pointed look as he herded them along. "You're in on this, aren't you?"
"What're you talking about of course I'm not in on this you're imagining things," the Marketing Committee head intoned in a rapid-fire manner, sounding as if he'd rehearsed the line a few times.
But she hardly noticed his unconvincing delivery. Another boy was waiting at the foot of the stairs with a rose. She recognized him as an old schoolmate of hers and one of Ren's friends back in grade school. Another former schoolmate met them shortly after they reached the top of the stairs, rushing over if he was late, and as a result nearly fell flat on his face when he tried to kneel before her.
Despite his renewed sense of urgency, the Marketing Committee head took them on the scenic route going back to their room. Another old schoolmate bearing a rose exited from his own homeroom and met them at the halfway point. As Yumi added her latest rose to the crimson bouquet sticking out of the shopping bag, she spotted Laurence watching them from the doorway of his homeroom. For a moment, his eyes looked wistful, then his lips twisted sardonically, and he lifted his hand as if he was raising a glass to toast her—and to acknowledge Ren's victory.
I'm sorry, Laurence, she thought, wishing she had the power not just to read threads of emotional energy but to change them—to transform anger into calmness, pain into peace, fear into hope. She could've helped Laurence, Natalie and the others who were suffering from broken hearts. She could've helped Ren. At the very least, she could've repaid Laurence for his gift of courage and insight. It wasn't fair that her happiness came at the price of someone else's pain.
"Yo. Yumi, right? Or I should say, Goddess?"
Yumi turned toward the deep, rumbling voice, and found herself looking up at the hulking figure of Jake. His piercings glittered at his ears, and even through his dark glasses she could feel his stare boring into her. Her classmates shrank away from him, but Yumi just smiled her secret smile. Jake, she thought. I recognize you, too. The ice queen is going to sniff out your secret soon, you can bet on that.
A grin slashed across his face as he brought his hand out from behind his back, revealing the rose and a white letter envelope. Unlike the others, he didn't kneel. Instead, he thumped his fist against his chest in a gesture that reminded her of a medieval warrior acknowledging a royal's command. "Been asked to give this to you," he informed her.
"Thanks," she murmured, taking the rose and the envelope from him.
Again, unlike the others, he didn't leave immediately after he'd made his delivery. "By the way, he wants me to tell you something." He produced his phone and made a show of checking it. "He says: 'You damn well better not be thinking about some other guy, especially the one who's making you look sad right now.' I had to clean his language up a bit," he added with an amused snort.
How does he—wait a minute. "I knew it!" she exclaimed. "He's watching, isn't he? He's holed up somewhere watching everything right now. Ren!" She dashed to the nearest balcony and scanned the upper floor as well as the rooftop, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shadowy figure or the telltale glint of sunlight reflecting on a pair of binoculars or a sniper rifle, just like in a spy movie. She saw nothing, of course, and when she turned back to interrogate Jake further, he'd already disappeared.
While her classmates discussed the unexpected discovery that Ren was friends with someone as terrifying as Jake, she opened the envelope. Inside was a gift certificate for a snack good for two at Berry Cool Place, an ice cream and cake shop in their neighborhood. The gift certificate was issued two years ago.
Inserted behind it was another folded note. She took it out and read:
When this shop opened, I thought it looked it like the kind of place you'd love. I planned to give this to you on Valentine's Day and ask you to go with me. I wanted to apologize to you, explain everything. I just wanted to be with you again. But when I went to give it, you were eating chocolates from some guy and talking about how much you hated guys. I got scared, said something idiotic, and made you mad again. Another strike for me.
The gift certificate is still good. I checked. So, do you want to go for a banana split with me some time?
She pressed the note to her chest and closed her eyes. She remembered that incident, which she realized now was just a gigantic misunderstanding. The chocolates had been given to Fran by a boy who turned out to be a worthless jerk. She'd been about to throw the chocolates away, but Lisette and Yumi, both avowed food-lovers, convinced her to let them get rid of the chocolates. The two girls were sitting on a bench, chomping away at the offensive sweets and talking about the jerk who'd hurt Fran. Caught up in the moment, Yumi had rashly declared that all boys were scum who didn't deserve to be allowed anywhere near a girl's soft, vulnerable heart. Then she heard a sound behind her, turned around, and found Ren eyeing her contemptuously.
"Don't worry. No guy'd ever be interested in your 'soft, vulnerable' heart," he'd sneered. "The only thing soft about you is your head. And your belly fat, if you keep stuffing your face like that."
She'd countered with an equally vicious insult, hiding her hurt behind anger. After that, the distance between them yawned even wider, and she was convinced that Ren thought her not only stupid but fat and ugly as well. But if he did think that of her, then why was he sneaking sandwiches onto her desk and planning to ask her out to a restaurant like Berry Cool Place? All those cruel, nasty things he said to her over the years—could it be he'd meant the exact opposite the whole time?
Ren, you freaking liar. Show yourself already, so I can kick your butt.
By the time they got back to the café, she'd acquired two more roses, bringing her collection to ten in all, plus the stuffed kitty and the gift certificate. By now, news of the mysterious and long-drawn-out confession to II-Ruby's Goddess of Love had spread, and people were curious to see who the intrepid suitor was and how it would play out. When she entered the café, Yumi could hardly move from the crush. A line of customers snaked from the bar to the door, and all the tables were occupied by people who looked as if they had no intention of leaving any time soon.
As she stood at her shrine, trying to take in the madhouse their café had become, a yelping noise from the direction of the bar caught her attention. Her classmate Dindo took one look at her, then dove into the "kitchen" area. He emerged shortly later, holding the eleventh rose in his hand. As the customers went "awwww," Dindo squeezed between the chairs and bodies until he reached her, sweating from the exertion.
"Sorry, I lost track of the time. For you, Goddess," he said as he dropped down to one knee and offered her the rose. As their classmates yelled their indignation at the fact that he'd known all along where Ren was and hadn't said a word, Dindo stood up, grinning from ear to ear. "Go easy on him, 'kay? He's been planning this even before the school-fair began, and when he called up last night, he sounded as panicky as I've ever heard him. Hard to believe, but Mr. Cool-as-Ice Navarro sounded as if he was this close to losing it when he said there was a change of plans—"
"Okay, okay, she gets it. Now go on, get back to making fruit-shakes," the Marketing Committee head interrupted, making shooing motions with his hand. Then he sighed and planted his hands on his hips, surveying the room. "Great, just great. Do you know that over half these people are waiting for the Goddess to read them their love-fortunes? And you're still without your partner."
"I'm sorry, but I can't do it without him," she said in a small voice. "I need him."
"I know, I'm on it. In the meantime, go talk to your worshippers, Goddess. Keep them happy."
He stalked off to the bar, already punching a number on his phone. Gulping, Yumi clutched her bags and turned to face the crowd, then she took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. "E-excuse me. First of all, I want to thank you for supporting our café," she began, glad that her voice sounded only a little shaky. "I know you're waiting for the Goddess—I mean, for me to read your love-fortunes, and I'm really sorry for making you wait, but you see—"
"We know. You're waiting for your soul-mate," a girl called out from one of the tables. "It's all right, we don't mind waiting. We want to see what'll happen next."
"And neither you nor our Goddess will have to wait much longer, ladies and gentlemen."
All eyes turned toward the Marketing Committee head, who was making his way back to Yumi, holding the twelfth rose and a small, yellow paper bag. He knelt in front of her and offered the yellow package and the rose, the Curly Top candy swinging from its stem. "To you, Goddess, our gratitude for granting us the privilege of bathing in your divine presence. Oh, and as a bonus, you also get this lovely rose and a present from your not-so-secret admirer," he said with a smile.
Yumi gaped, then burst out laughing. "You?! Oh good grief, I can't believe this," she gasped.
"Yes, me. Am I great or what?" He got to his feet, dusted his pants off and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Well? Aren't you going to open that?"
As everyone leaned forward avidly, she slipped the rose into the bag along with the others, opened the yellow package, and shook it out. A cellphone strap with a coin-sized metal angel charm fell onto her palm. The angel's gown was yellow studded with tiny, clear gemstones, its outspread wings were white and glittery, and its hair was brown and curly. Just like hers.
The note that came with it read:
I should have given this to you last Valentine's Day. You were having a rough time then with all those rumors, and I wanted to let you know you weren't alone. I thought this angel would do it. Besides, she reminded me of you. I carried this with me for weeks, waiting for a chance to give it to you, but you wouldn't even look my way. The only time you ever paid any attention to me was when I was insulting you. I know I hurt you, but your hatred was better than nothing. For a long time, it was all I had to hold on to.
This angel is yours, Yumi. Like I am. If you still want me, come to the middle balcony on the north side. I'll be waiting.
She closed her fist around the angel charm and ran out of the room without another word. She didn't even notice the commotion she left in her wake. But when she got to the place, he was nowhere to be found. Feeling increasingly frantic, she went to the balcony and gazed out onto the quadrangle. Then she saw it—a familiar figure standing still in the middle of the teeming crowd, almost directly beneath the balcony. He was wearing jeans and her favorite button-down, beige shirt, the one she secretly thought molded his shoulders best and made him look twice as hot. His shirt's understated color should have made him harder to pick out from the crowd, except he was the only one who was holding a single white daisy and gazing intently up at the balcony, the orange hairclip in his black bangs sparkling like a beacon in the sunlight.
"Ren!" she tried to shout, but her voice came out as a croak instead. He'd seen her though, and the smile that broke across his face was all blue skies and summer.
"Stay there, I'm coming right up!" he yelled back just before he vanished into the crowd.
Yumi clapped a hand over her mouth, praying that her tears would hold out a little while longer. She easily tracked his progress by following the ripple of curious murmuring and head-turning as the crazy guy with the daisy rushed past. There were a lot of people hanging around in the hallway—many of them Yumi's classmates and their customers from the café—but she barely noticed them. When he finally appeared at the end of the hallway, she didn't notice the eager smiles of the lookers-on either, nor did she notice the way people parted to clear a straight path between him and her.
All she could see was Ren. He walked toward her, his warm gaze holding hers. When only a couple of feet separated them, he got down on one knee and offered the daisy to her. "Goddess Rule Number Five," he murmured. "Give your Goddess your sincere offering, and she will reward you in return."
With trembling hands, she took the daisy and buried her nose in its yellow heart, not daring to speak for fear that only blubbering noises would emerge. But he wasn't done yet. Remaining on his knee, he seemed to gather himself and said with the solemnity of a devotee: "I want to make a confession, Goddess. Please, will you hear me out?"
She nodded jerkily. "A-as long as you get up, okay? Please? All that kneeling's got to be hard on your knee," she said in a tear-clogged voice.
Smiling, he did as she asked. Then he took one step closer and lifted unsteady hands to either side of her face, brushing his thumbs back and forth against her cheeks. "I confess, Goddess, that I have sinned," he continued, his voice hoarse, as if he too was struggling to contain his emotions. "There's this girl I'm in love with. She's my best friend, and I've loved her from the moment I first met her, way back when we were six. But I've hurt her badly, not just once but three times.
"The first time was when we were ten, and she asked me if there was a girl I liked. I was afraid that if I told her I liked her, she'd laugh in my face and push me away. So I lied. I told her I liked her sister. I broke her heart and I didn't even know it, all because I was scared of losing her.
"Then when we were twelve, she told me she could read a person's emotions as threads of light. I admit I was shocked, but I believed her. I wasn't afraid of her power, but when she tried to take my hand, I panicked. I didn't want her to read my feelings and find out the truth—that it was her I liked, and that I'd been lying to her for years. She ran away before I could explain, and for a while I was angry with her, too, for thinking I'm the kind of person who'd hate her just because of something like that. By the time I came to my senses, it was too late. I'd already lost my best friend."
Cupping her face, his palms warm and slightly rough against her skin, he touched his forehead to hers and continued: "You wouldn't believe how happy I was last Christmas when I got another chance to get close to her. I swore I wouldn't screw things up this time. She didn't trust me, and that hurt, but she needed my help, and I was just so damned happy to be with her again that I didn't even notice how my lies were hurting her. Then another guy seemed to be getting close to her, and it drove me crazy. But she surprised me again, Goddess. She told me she loves me. In spite of all the shit I put her through, she loves me. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I thought I was dreaming it all up. And idiot that I am, the first words that came out of my mouth were about how her confession messed up my own plan to confess to her. She totally got the wrong idea, and she didn't give me a chance to tell her that rejecting her or denying her anything is impossible for me."
He brushed his lips on her forehead and straightened, gazing into her eyes. "Goddess Rule Number Three: Have faith, because love understands and love forgives. I have faith in you, Goddess. And I am crazy in love with this gorgeous, amazing girl. Will you forgive me? Will she? After three years of going insane without you, Yumi, will you finally be mine?"
At that point, the situation was hopeless. The dam burst, and tears flooded her face. Pulling away from him, she covered her face with her hands and consigned her makeup to perdition. Through her hiccupping sobs, she felt him take the daisy out of her hand, heard him say her name uncertainly. So she closed the remaining distance between them and nestled against him, making bags, roses and stuffed kitty bump awkwardly against his legs. Wrapping his arms around her, he hugged her and pressed his lips to her hair, holding her so tightly there was no room left for doubt, untruth or fear.
Wild cheering and applause broke out all around them. Over the din, she could hear the beautiful but inexplicable strains of an acoustic guitar and a throaty baritone voice crooning a love song; Ren later told her it was Linc, apparently swept away by the romance of it all and acting completely on his own. Through her tears and the nearly overwhelming urge to laugh—her arms had encountered a hard, flat object tucked into his waistband at his back, which turned out to be his trusty clipboard—Yumi tilted her face to his and whispered: "Best reply to a confession ever, Ren."
From her loom upon which she wove threads of light into a living tapestry, the Goddess watched the two embrace, and smiled.
It's not quite done yet...
By the way, Linc was playing Jason Chen's "Best Friend" (you can search for it on YouTube), but feel free to substitute any love song of your choice. ^_^