Home > When Dimple Met Rishi(6)

When Dimple Met Rishi(6)
Author: Sandhya Menon

• • •

The dorm was a tiny rectangular room, just big enough for two twin beds and two desks. The inexplicable scent of wood shavings hung heavy in the air. The walls were institutional gray-brown; the carpet, ditto. On the headboard of one of the beds, some past student had inscribed, with a Sharpie and a careful hand: ipsa scientia potestas est. Dimple loved it, all of it, instantly and with an unadulterated passion.

It was beginning. Her freedom, her independence, her period of learning—about herself, about the world, about her career. She was finally doing it. Here she wouldn’t be Dimple Shah, wayward, Americanized daughter of immigrant parents; she’d be just Dimple Shah, future web developer. People would judge her on her brain, not her lack of makeup. There would be no cliques like high school. Everyone was here of their own volition, to learn, to teach, to work together.

She sent a quick text to Mamma and Papa:

Got here safely! Dorm is nice. Papa, please take your medicine—and no more sweets today!!

Then, smiling, she shut the door behind her and made her way past chattering students, here for various summer programs, down to the main lobby.

Rishi spotted her again in the main lobby, looking at the rack of dusty campus maps. He hadn’t even checked into his room yet; he was so nervous he was going to miss her, he’d run to his car to get the gift and then run back here to find her. All the Insomnia Con students had been given rooms in the same dorm, so it wasn’t hard to figure out where she would be.

But now, standing in the somewhat empty lobby, he wondered if she’d freak out again. She didn’t seem to be holding beverages of any kind, which was good. This time, Rishi thought, he’d be sedate. Chill. Breezy.

Rishi smoothed his hair back, adjusted his shirt collar, and started forward.

The maps all looked ancient, but Dimple supposed they would have to do. She grabbed one at random and turned around.

And there he was again, mouth open, staring at the back of her head.

“What the heck?” Before she’d even fully thought about it, Dimple had reached out and sliced him with the edge of the map.

“Ow!” Clutching his forearm, the psycho staggered backward a few steps.

Huh. Not much of a predator if all it took was a paper cut to deter him. “Why are you following me?” Dimple took what she hoped was a menacing step forward, map held out as a weapon.

The boy eyed it warily, letting his arms drop. He was dressed pretty sanely for a psychotic attacker, Dimple thought, in a button-down blue shirt (sporting a wet patch still; her coffee, she guessed proudly) with the sleeves rolled up and well fitted jeans. His eyes, the color of deep caramel, were almost innocent-looking. It just showed, you could never trust appearances. “Well, I was about to explain that when you attacked me.”

“I attacked you ?” Dimple said slowly, eyebrows raised at his indignant tone. “Are you serious? You’ve been following me, being totally creepy—”

He hung his head a little, the tips of his ears pink, the same way Papa’s got when he was embarrassed. “I’m sorry. ‘Creepy’ wasn’t what I was going for.”

“Sure, buddy, whatever.” Dimple stepped carefully around him, alert for any lunging. “Just stay away from me, or I’ll call the campus police.”

“No, wait!”

“I mean it!” She turned again, brandishing the map.

“Dimple, please, just let me explain. This isn’t what—”

She lowered the map and frowned. “How do you know my name?”

Man, she was taking a really long time to put two and two together. Weren’t Stanford students supposed to be bright?

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Rishi said patiently. “It’s me. Rishi Patel.” He waited for the light to dawn, for her to smile, smack her forehead, and say, Of course! But she just continued to frown at him, thick eyebrows knitted together. She was actually kind of scary.

“Oh . . . kay. Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

Rishi stared at her. This was a joke. Right? Or maybe she was just incredibly embarrassed and didn’t want to admit she’d made a mistake. Maybe he should make this easier for her. “Hey, it’s okay.” He smiled. “This is all a little out there, I know.”

She shook her head. “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She looked too sincere to be messing with him. He felt the beginnings of doubt begin to creep in. “You’re Dimple Shah, right? From Fresno? The daughter of Vijay and Leena Shah?”

Her eyes widened and she stepped back. “You know an awful lot about me.”

Oh great. Now he was freaking her out again. He should just say it. “That’s because we . . . we’re supposed to be getting married.”

Not this nonsense again with the marriage delusions. But, she had to admit, he seemed genuine. Sincere. Something dark and heavy began to squirm just under her diaphragm. “Wait. How do you know about me and my parents?”

He looked totally confused. “Because our parents are childhood friends. They set this whole thing up. Your parents mailed my parents a picture of you, and vice versa.” Then his face cleared. “And . . . this is the first you’ve heard of any of this.” It wasn’t a question.

Dimple was afraid she might be sick. If she actually had anything in her stomach, she would’ve been. The world tilted and spun, and there was a ringing in her ears. This was why Mamma and Papa had been so open about letting her go to Insomnia Con. This was what all the weird, guilty looks were about. And that damn Ritu auntie had probably been in on it too.

“Hey, are you okay?” The boy—Rishi—came forward and put a gentle hand on her elbow, steadying her.

Dimple wrenched her elbow away from him, heat flooding her cheeks. She really wanted to slice him with the map again, but managed to resist. “This is ridiculous. Okay? I can’t even believe —how do I know you’re not making this up, huh? Maybe this is just some sort of cheap, twisted pickup line.” Dimple couldn’t help it; all the anger and fury she should’ve been directing at Mamma and Papa was being misplaced and directed at Rishi instead.

She saw his cheeks color, his jaw harden. But instead of lashing back at her, he reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, from which he extracted a small picture. It was her.

Dimple remembered that . . . it was from last Diwali, when Mamma had insisted she go to the celebration put on by the Indian Association. She’d wanted to go to a local showing of the documentary Bridegroom instead. Hence the scowl. Now that she thought about it though, all her pictures pretty much looked like that.

“And . . .” Rishi reached into his pocket again and pulled out a small jewelry box.

Oh God, no. Please don’t let that be what she thought it was. He snapped it open. Nestled inside was a ring made out of gold so pure it looked almost orange.

“My great-grandmother’s ring. My parents have kept this for me since I was born.” Rishi paused, looking down at the small, square ring. His expression was solemn, like he was holding something that could shape fortunes and mold destinies. When he looked back up at Dimple, it hit her how much this really meant to him. This wasn’t just an arranged marriage to Rishi; this was the rich fabric of history, stretched through time and space. “Believe me, I wouldn’t use this for a cheap, twisted pickup line.” He was speaking slowly, his words and tone measured, but she could tell he was angry.

God, now she felt like a total jerk. It wasn’t his fault they were in this heinous situation. Dimple felt the anger drain out of her. She blew out a breath. “I’m . . . I’m sorry. I just, I was totally caught off guard.”

He was staring at her openmouthed.

She frowned. “What?”

“I just didn’t expect you to apologize. You’re so . . .”

Dimple waited, one eyebrow raised.

“Spirited,” Rishi finished, in a way that implied he’d considered, and then decided against, using a much less complimentary adjective. He put the ring back in his pocket, and after a moment, held out the picture to her. She took it. Rubbing the back of his neck, he said, “So . . . ah, this is awkward.”

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