Home > When Dimple Met Rishi(17)

When Dimple Met Rishi(17)
Author: Sandhya Menon

The hostess tapped something into her tablet and smiled. “Ah yes. Please follow me.”

Oh great. When they walked into the restaurant proper, it became clearer and clearer why Rishi was dressed the way he was. Everywhere, couples and groups who looked like they were either heading off to conferences or cocktail parties smiled and laughed over candlelit tables. On every gold clothed table was a glass bowl full of pale yellow flowers. In the center of the space, an actual fountain gushed. Dimple was the only person there in a faded kurta, jeans, and Chucks.

As the hostess wound deeper and deeper into the restaurant, Dimple turned to Rishi. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she said. “I’m so underdressed. You said I was fine!”

“Sorry!” The anguish on his face from seeing her discomfort was clear. “They’re more casual in the afternoons, so I figured you’d be fine. I’ve never done dinner here before.”

Dimple sighed. “Celia said they did a mean mac and cheese. I was expecting some small, down-home kinda place.” Another thought occurred to her, and she paled. “Crap, I can’t afford this.” She could, but only if she used the emergency credit card Mamma and Papa had given her. Which she really, really didn’t want to do. The bill went straight to them.

“Don’t worry about it,” Rishi said immediately. “I got it.”

She turned to him, her cheeks burning. “Absolutely not.”

“But—”

“I don’t take handouts. Besides, I’m not going to be the only one not able to pay for myself, Rishi. That definitely will not help my case with the others.”

He sighed and, after a moment, nodded.

The hostess led them to their table, a large one in the corner that had its own carved wood chandelier hanging above. It was empty.

“First ones here,” the hostess chirped. “Please have a seat and your server will be right with you.”

“Thanks,” Rishi said.

Dimple sank into a seat and he took one next to her. She looked even more despondent than before. Her phone beeped, and she fished it out of her bag and looked at the screen. “Great,” she muttered. “Celia got stuck watching a movie with her grandma. She’s going to be thirty minutes late.”

“It’ll be interesting to see if the Aberzombies beat her here. At least she texted.”

Dimple smiled, a wilted thing. “Well, if they don’t come, that’ll be good for my wallet, at least.” She pulled the menu to her and opened it, scanning the items with what could only be described as fear.

Rishi cleared his throat. “Hey, um, I’m going to run to the restroom. Be right back.”

He walked quickly to the back of the restaurant, where the double doors led to the kitchen. A middle-aged waiter in a bow tie approached him, smiling. “Hello, sir. Can I help you with something?”

“Yeah, hey. I’m at that table over there.” He gestured vaguely in the direction. “It’s a table for seven, reserved under ‘Ramirez.’ I’d like to pay for everyone’s food at that table.”

The waiter smiled kindly. “Okay, sir. What we’ll do is bring you the check and—”

“No.” Rishi shook his head. “You don’t understand. I want to pay anonymously, in advance.”

The waiter stopped, his mouth slightly open, brows knitting together. “Anonymously?”

“Yes.” Rishi tried to keep his tone patient. Had no one ever done this before? Well, now that he thought about it, maybe not. “I’d like to pay now, and for you or whoever our waiter is to not mention that it was me who paid. Maybe you guys could just say someone decided to pay our bill. You know, like those pay it forward things. Okay?”

The waiter adjusted his bow tie, still looking totally lost. “But, sir, how will we know how much it’s going to be in advance?”

“Well . . .” Rishi reached in his wallet and pulled out a wedge of bills. “This should cover seven full course meals, right? Plus tip? Just keep the change.”

The waiter took the money and discreetly slipped it into a bill holder he pulled from the pocket of his apron. “Of course, sir. I shall be taking care of your table myself.”

Rishi grinned at him, and after a moment, the waiter grinned back.

Oh, no. Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no.

Dimple heard and smelled them before she saw them. The Aberzombies. Instead of death rattle moans, they were known for their piercing laughter (girls), forced guffawing (boys), and excessive expensive perfume (both). She craned her neck and scanned desperately for Rishi, but he wasn’t visible. He’d left to go to the restroom only a minute ago, so she was just going to have to handle this on her own.

Dimple turned as Evan, Hari, and Isabelle sauntered up, laughing and talking loudly, impervious to the glares of the older diners. Evan was a paler, taller version of Hari, but otherwise they were dressed almost identically, in understated plaid button-down shirts with a little Ralph Lauren emblem on the chest, khaki pants, and loafers. On each of their wrists gleamed a heavy gold watch. Unlike Rishi’s, these were made to proclaim, Look at me! Evan’s watch caught the light and seared Dimple’s retina. Blinking, she looked at Isabelle. In spite of the chill outside, she was dressed in a barely-there strapless blue dress that complimented her tanning bed complexion. A thin white belt snaked around her narrow waist, and a small diamond cross glinted in the hollow of her neck. Her blond hair had been teased into curls that hung past her shoulders.

They all sat down without so much as a glance at Dimple, still engrossed in their conversation about some dude named Corey on their lacrosse team back home. Dimple sipped her water, trying not to feel small and irrelevant. I don’t care about them, she kept reminding herself. I’m here for myself.

Finally, a good five minutes later when the conversation began to peter out, Isabelle turned her blue eyes on Dimple. “Hi,” she said, smiling a tight-lipped kind of smile. “It’s Dimple, right?” She said “Dimple” with a slightly distasteful grimace. As if Dimple’s name were Pus Filled Cyst or Male Pattern Baldness instead.

“Right,” Dimple said, forcing herself to smile. “And you’re . . . Isabella?” she couldn’t help adding.

“Isabelle,” the girl said, in the tired manner of someone who’d said it a thousand times before, which, of course, was exactly what Dimple had been counting on.

“Right. Sorry.” She forced herself to turn to the boys, who were silently studying their menus. “And you guys are Evan and Hari, right? Celia’s told me about you all.” She pronounced Hari the correct way, rolling the r and saying it sort of like Hurry .

Evan just nodded and went back to his menu, but Hari turned to her with an orthodontically enhanced smile that made her feel sticky all over. “It’s pronounced Harry , actually.”

Evan snorted.

No, actually, Dimple thought. Why should he get to act all high and mighty when he was wrong? “But it’s not,” she responded, before she could stop herself.

Hari’s gaze was all ice and venom as he said, “Forgive me if I don’t want to take advice on names from someone called Dimple. ”

Dimple felt her shoulders hunch into themselves even as she tried not to let them. She shouldn’t give someone like Hari so much power, but she couldn’t help it. She felt utterly dumpy and completely put in her place, which, of course, was exactly what he’d been going for.

Evan guffawed showily and said, “Dude . . .” into a closed fist that he held in front of his mouth.

Isabelle glanced at Dimple out of the corner of her eye. A slight flush was working its way into her cheeks. “Chill,” she mumbled. “She’s just interested in a connection with someone from her own country.” Dimple tried not to roll her eyes at Isabelle’s well-intentioned defense. She needed a sandwich board that said, America is my country too.

Evan grinned. “Yeah, don’t worry about Hari.” Harry. “He’s not as well traveled as some of us.”

Isabelle snorted and played with her cross, clearly uncomfortable. “Sailing around in your daddy’s yacht doesn’t mean you’re well traveled.”

   
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