Chapter 1

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Disclaimer: I'm new at this.

It's only been three weeks, I wanted to say. So if I do anything wrong, mess you up in any way, I shouldn't be held responsible. But the girl sitting in front of me, she didn't know that anyway. She didn't know that by walking into the College Guidance Office, seeking something as abstract as "guidance," she would instead find me, and be the first to summon me.

Quin told me that I would get better at the diagnosis with each "project."

It helps if you're familiar with the feeling, he always said. But it'll get easier.

Kathy Martin had been sitting on the couch across from me for ten minutes, but I only noticed her there after a pencil rolled off my desk. I bent to pick it up and saw Kathy's shoes. Ballet flats so orange, they looked like they were on fire.

"You scared me," I said, or maybe something with more profanity. "I didn't see you there."

"I get that a lot."

"Are they expecting you?" I asked, going into secretary mode.

Kathy shook her head. "No," she said. "Should I have made an appointment? I thought I could just walk in here."

I checked the calendars of the two guidance counselors who were in that day and saw that neither would be available for another four hours. And they were both out at the moment.

The disappointment on Kathy's face was unexpected. No one ever wanted to see a guidance counselor that badly, at least not on the Tuesdays and Thursdays that I did filing work there.

"You could come back at five," I offered.

"Do you work here?"

I didn't, not in the way Kathy meant with her question. Located just outside of Metro Manila, Ford River College was a relatively new school (compared to the over-a-century-old ones put up during the Spanish and American periods), but it already had a reputation for being the place to send your children if they were very smart, or if you were very rich. I was there on scholarship, but I didn't think that automatically put me in the camp of very smart. Maybe lucky.

One of the strings attached to the free education was that I had to work in a "relevant administration office" several hours a week. If Kathy couldn't tell I was a student, I could guess why. Students of Ford River wore uniforms only on Mondays.

"I'm just a student employee," was the gist of it.

"Oh." More disappointment.

I could see what was coming, when her face lit up briefly.

"Can I talk to you instead?" she asked.

Could she? It wasn't like I was idle. I had two hundred sheets of student personality tests to file, and they needed this yesterday. I was sure Kathy could see that, because they were all on top of the desk, a Great Wall of Papers between us.

"You're fine that I'm just a student?"

She shrugged. "I just want someone to talk to. I'm Kathy, by the way."

"Hannah Maquiling. What do you want to talk about?"

She sighed. "There's this guy who likes me. I don't know what to make of it."

I sighed too. "Let's walk to the cafeteria and you can tell me about it."

"You don't mind?" Her eyes were big and pleading, and I saw it, before I felt it pass my skin and get into my bones.

Longing.

I knew that, longing. The act of identifying it seemed to make it worse, and it felt like it slammed into my chest instead of crept in.

"Nah," I said, trying to sound casual and not at all like her emotion was suffocating me. "It's my job, I guess."

I was told that they would find me, wherever I happened to be, and they would want and need to talk about boys, and girls, and relationships, and what it all meant, and I had to make time for them.

For I am the interim goddess of love.

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