“Hey,” he said finally, cautiously. “I can see how that would suck. I had no idea. Look, I’ll leave. I’ll go back home, and he’ll have to reassign you. Maybe you can be in a group of three with someone.”
Dimple looked at him, slightly disbelievingly. “You’d do that. For me.”
“Sure.” Rishi shrugged. “It means way more to you than it ever did to me. And, you know, I get it. This is your passion.”
“You won’t get a refund,” she said sharply, and he tried not to laugh at the suspicion in her voice.
“It’s okay,” he said. “My parents are totally cool with me going home early. I’ll just finish out the day and tell Max I have a family emergency or something.”
Dimple opened her mouth to respond, but Max spoke from the front of the room, interrupting her. “I trust you are all getting to know your partners. But I want us to take this to the next level. This being our first day together, I thought we could all use a jump start on breaking the ice. I want you all to reach under your chairs.”
Abuzz with curiosity, they did. Rishi looked at the contraption in his hand for a few seconds before realizing what it was.
“A Polaroid camera,” Dimple said at the same time. “Wow. I think my parents have one of those in our attic.”
“What are we supposed to do with these?” Rishi asked, looking around the room. An obnoxious group of well-manicured people—a white girl and boy, and an Indian boy—were already trying to take pictures of one another. One of the boys, the white one, seemed to be paired with Celia, he saw.
“Okay, boys and girls,” Max said again from the front of the room. “For those of you who may not know, you hold in your hands a forgotten treasure. This is the Polaroid camera, and as an amateur photographer, I find it to be one of the most honest artistic mediums for the capture of everyday moments. I want you to go forth and capture a few such moments today. To that end, I’ve come up with a few items for your photo scavenger hunt.” He began to pass out sheets of paper with enumerated lists on them. “You’ll see I’ve given each team a sheet with five items on it. I want you to capture all five items and bring your photos back to class in two hours. It is my hope that you will all get to know your partners much better this way than if we were all just sitting in this horrendous recycled air, firing questions at each other. The only rule is: No collaboration with any other teams. The teams who successfully complete this exercise will be awarded ten extra points toward their final score in Insomnia Con.” A buzz went around the room. Max made a shooing motion with his hands and spoke louder. “Off you go. Good luck! I’ll be outside napping in my hammock. Just wake me when you’re back.”
Rishi looked at Dimple as they both got up. She looked about as pleased as he felt; her lips were pursed tight, her eyes fixed longingly on Celia’s retreating back. As he followed her out, he said, “If you want, I could bow out now.”
She slowed down so they could walk outside together, and nibbled on her bottom lip. “No,” she said finally, looking up at him. “Let’s do this thing together.”
Rishi frowned, not sure what was up with the total change of mood. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Dimple took a deep breath and looked at him. “It’s really cool of you to volunteer to bow out. Not a lot of people would do that.” And then she smiled a smile so dazzling, Rishi tripped over his own feet.
“Are you okay?” Dimple reached out to grab his arm, but Rishi steadied himself against the wall and blushed a bright and furious red.
“Yeah, fine,” he said, not meeting her eye. “Shoelaces,” he added vaguely, looping the Polaroid camera’s strap around his neck.
They walked along in relative silence, their classmates melting off onto various paths and striding over grass to go to the places where their pictures beckoned. It was cool enough, in spite of the sun, that Dimple had to pull her hoodie tighter around her.
She glanced sideways at Rishi through her curls, feeling like a jerk. She’d really unleashed a bunch of crap on him, and he’d been so . . . adult about it. So empathetic. Dimple really wished she could do this ice breaker thing with someone else, someone she’d be working with for the rest of this project, but asking him to leave right away would just be cruel. It was like saying she couldn’t stand to be around him for the length of a stupid project. And given how decent he’d been, there was no need for that. So she’d deal. It wasn’t like he was bad company, from the little she’d seen of him, anyway.