Home > When Dimple Met Rishi(16)

When Dimple Met Rishi(16)
Author: Sandhya Menon

Dimple paused, heart stuttering a bit. Was this a weighted question? If she said he should pick her up, would that give him the wrong idea? But if she didn’t, would that sound like she didn’t want to spend any more time with him than absolutely necessary? Dimple quietly thunked her forehead on the screen a few times and then typed, Pick me up at 6:50.

Rishi’s response was immediate. See ya then.

• • •

Promptly at 6:49, there was a knock on Dimple’s dorm room door. She opened it to find Rishi on the other side, dressed in a neatly pressed burgundy button-down (the color actually looked really good on him—brought out the red in his lips, not that she was looking looking) and khakis. He looked very much like Boy on a First Date. At least he hadn’t brought a flower.

Rishi had considered bringing a long-stemmed flower—he knew this wasn’t a date, so maybe a carnation rather than a rose?—but had nixed it at the last moment. Seeing Dimple’s face now, taking in his business casual attire, he was kind of glad.

• • •

She’d say this for him: He had no guile. There were no mind games, no trying to be cool or appearing to be something else. Rishi was unabashedly himself. She felt a tug of endearment and coughed to cover it up. “Oh, er, hi. I feel underdressed.”

“You look fantastic.” He smiled, and she could tell he really meant it. “Ready?”

• • •

Outside, the sun had streaked the fog a molten pink and gold. Karl wafted lazily, toying with their hair and whispering wetly in their ears. Dusk pulled their shadows long, and a slight breeze ruffled the leaves on the eucalyptus trees they passed. Dimple pulled an errant, damp curl off her face. “So do you want to talk really quickly about the idea I had for Insomnia Con? Since we’re not going to hash it out over pizza?”

Rishi tucked his hands into his pockets. “Sure.”

Dimple’s pulse quickened. She’d been thinking about this for so long, and now it was finally here. The chance to make this into a reality. “So the first thing to understand is that Papa’s a diabetic. He really struggles to take his medication and stay on the straight and narrow with his diet. He’s always saying how much of a pain in the butt it is to remember each little thing that comes with being a diabetic. There’s the shot, the medication, the special diet, the exercise. . . . That got me thinking, what if there was a way to make it easier and more fun for sick people to stick to their routines? What if there was an app that turned it into a sort of game with a reward system?”

“Interesting. I just recently read an article about the psychology of gaming. How even the simplest or most repetitive of games can be made addictive if the person is rewarded enough or something?”

Dimple nodded, excited that he’d heard of it. “Yeah, it’s called a compulsion loop. When we repeat a certain behavior and get rewarded for it, we want to keep repeating that behavior. So if that behavior is inputting that they took their medication or stuck to their diet—something that’ll be visually represented and give them a reward—they’ll want to keep repeating it. But it has to be simple enough that even older people like Papa can do it easily from their phones.”

Rishi looked at her, impressed. “That is really cool. I love this idea already.”

Dimple flushed and ducked her head. “Thanks. I hope the judges do too.”

“We’ll just have to work extra hard so they do.”

Dimple smiled at Rishi, at his open enthusiasm. Softly, she said, “By the way, thanks for coming to this thing.”

“No problem.” A pause. “So . . . why are we going, again?”

She noticed the “we” in place of the “you,” and felt a warmth in her belly. Rishi was a naturally good friend, she could tell, the kind of guy who thought your every fight was his as well. “Mainly because it’s important to Celia, and I think this month and a half will be a whole lot less awkward if I make an effort to like her friends. I’m sure they’ll be coming over to our dorm room and stuff.” Dimple thought of the way Celia turned pink when she talked of Evan. “Besides, if I can just spend some time with them, maybe—” She broke off, not able to believe she’d actually been about to tell Rishi her thought process.

“Maybe they won’t bother you again,” he finished mildly. “Makes sense.”

They walked along, both looking straight ahead until they got to the light. Dimple turned to look at him while they waited for a WALK sign. “Does it really? Make sense to you, I mean?”

“Sure.” Rishi’s eyes were clear and genuine.

Dimple smiled a half smile. “No don’t appease the bullies sentiment?”

Rishi shrugged. The WALK sign beeped, and they started across. “There’s a place for that. But if you want to try appealing to their friendly side, I see nothing wrong with it.”

Dimple nodded. She didn’t need his approval; she knew her strategy was a good one. And still, somehow, she felt vulnerable in a way that was totally unfamiliar to her. Her usual style was ignoring the haters, pretending they didn’t exist.

It worked, for the most part. They usually got tired of it and went away, eager to pick on the next victim, preferably someone who’d give them what they wanted—blood and tears. But this time she was striding right into the mouth of the beast. She was going to have dinner with them.

But you don’t know they’re really bullies , she told herself. Sure, they’d made that obnoxious comment about her face. But maybe . . . maybe they were having an off day.

Even as she thought it, she was annoyed at herself. No off day justified making fun of someone’s appearance or being as cruel or vulgar as they had been. She knew that.

I’m afraid, Dimple realized, with a bit of a start. This was new to her. She had no idea what would come of eating dinner with people like these, and in a way, it was terrifying.

She glanced down and saw Rishi’s feet clad in their black lace-up oxfords right next to her Chucks, and felt a thud of gratitude toward him. At least she wasn’t walking in there alone. And who knew? Maybe by the time tonight was done, she wouldn’t have anything to worry about with Evan and Hari.

CHAPTER 14

There was something different about her that sat uneasily with Rishi, like a scratchy tag against the back of his neck. He didn’t know Dimple very well, obviously, and yet tonight she was just . . . off, a faded print of her former vibrant self. It was like someone had left a photograph out in the sun too long. She was sort of folded into herself, arms crossed across her gray kurta tunic, curls hiding her face like a makeshift curtain.

Rishi clenched his fists against his sides and tried to breathe. Okay, so they were doing dinner with these dirtbags tonight. Fine. That didn’t mean he had to just sit there while they laughed at Dimple. If anything close to what he’d heard before came out of their mouths, he’d lose it. It wasn’t Dimple’s preferred way of handling things, but seriously. There was only so much you could take before you had to shut it down. Besides, he knew people like those Aberzombies; he’d gone to school—private school—in Atherton. And 99 percent of the time, they were all bluster and no balls.

He glanced at her again, worry niggling at him. He wished she’d just turned Celia down. Was it really worth it?

Anxiety’s cold fingers pressed against Dimple, trying to find a way in. She took a deep breath as they approached Elm. It had a super trendy exterior, she noted in surprise, the shiny silver letters glinting in the fading sunlight. The windows were covered with heavy gold fabric. Anxiety’s fingers became claws.

Turning to Rishi, she said, “Uh, is this, like, a fancy place?” She whispered the word “fancy” like it was something illicit, as a smartly dressed couple in their fifties walked by. Before he could respond, the twenty-five-ish-year-old hostess (dressed in a slinky black dress and gold high heels) who’d opened the door for the couple smiled at them. “Hello! Table for two?”

Dimple noticed the girl’s eyes hitch just slightly on her dark-rinse skinny jeans and Chucks before moving on smoothly. “We’re actually meeting some people,” she said, her voice small. “Celia Ramirez?”

   
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